While I was away, spring came to Portland with a color palette so vivid and days so warm that the promise of summer is already in the air. What stands out to me from that burst of color more than anything else are the plentiful bright yellow dots of dandelions everywhere. And today it was time to have some of them on my plate.
Most people know that dandelion is edible and packed with nutrition, but the bitterness of the leaves has given it a bad name. However, the bitterness factor can be reduced considerably if, in harvesting dandelion, you look for 1) the best-looking leaves you can find that are 2) fast-growing and 3) don’t get excessive sun. Cooking or steaming the leaves does wonders; so does drizzling them with olive oil and lemon juice and adding a bit of salt, or mixing them with other greens in a salad.
But it’s not only the dandelion leaves that are edible: the flowers and flower buds, upper bud stem, heart, and roots can all be eaten. I like to separate the sweet petals and sprinkle them on salad. Today I fried them in batter as a snack, following this recipe. And, following the advice of Becky Lerner who first initiated me into urban wild foods foraging, I’ve also made a coffee substitute from dandelion root — and it’s true, roasting the roots in the oven really does make the whole house smell like chocolate chip cookies! (By the way, Becky’s blog First Ways is a great resource for urban foraging. She is also coming out with a new book, Dandelion Hunter: Foraging the Urban Wilderness, which should be out next week!)
There’s another plant that I’ve ceased to pull out impatiently when I see it in the garden. Instead, I let it grow and happily harvest this source of food that took no effort on my part to grow. Often confused with dandelion, cat’s ear has similar-looking leaves, but they are unmistakably hairy on both sides — hence the name. It can also be used in salads, or steamed, or used in lieu of spinach in many dishes.