Dandelion greens, like all greens, love fat. Their robust bitterness and peppery undertones are muted, to some degree, by the liquid smoothness of unrefined olive oil or – even better – the smokiness of a good quality bacon fat, free of added nitrates and nitrites and produced from hogs raised outdoors and under a vibrant sun. The strong flavor of the greens also pairs well with the sweet spice of toasted mustard seed.
In late spring and early summer, dandelions grow with unyielding fervor – and like all noxious weeds, they choke out the native wildflowers our community is known for: fireweed, glacier lily, wild iris, columbines and my favorite – the tiny magenta elephant heads. So, before they spread and go to seed in their round fluffy heads, we remove them by hand. I hate to let the weeds go to waste, though, as dandelion is perfectly edible and, like other deep-green leaf, is likewise intensely nutritive.
It’s still a bit too cold to plant quite yet – frost is persistent here in the mountains and threatens to thwart any attempts at growing well into late June. So we spend out time preparing beds in our community garden, starting seeds for the terra cotta pots on our patio. I prefer heirloom varieties for their unique and almost whimsical traits: dotted mint, chocolate mint, purple basil and hyssop will all make appearances this year. And before we get our hands in the dirt, we pull those weeds and non-native interlopers, or, rather, my husband does. Me? I pretend to attend to pressing business on the Nourished Kitchen Facebook page while he sweats in the sun and dusty wind.
Benefits of Dandelions in Cooking
Dandelions, like most greens, offer deep nutrition. One cup of chopped cooked dandelion greens contains about 15% of the daily value for calcium, 10% for iron and 32% for vitamin C. Dandelion greens are also rich in beta carotene, an antioxidant, and vitamin K1 which – though valuable – pales in comparison to vitamin K2 found in grass-fed butterfat, cheese and fermented soy foods like miso and natto. Advocates for plant-based diets often point to beta carotene as the equivalent of vitamin A.
Under the right circumstances beta carotene can be converted to vitamin A, but our bodies are clumsy in making this conversion and some people – the elderly, children, the immune-compromised and those with thyroid disorders – have trouble making this conversion at all which is why consuming true vitamin A or retinol from animal foods such as grass-fed liver and butter, pasture-raised egg yolk and cod liver oil (see sources) is essential. Interestingly, consuming fruits and vegetables such as dandelion greens which are naturally rich in antioxidants with a high quality fat like grass-fed butter (see sources) seems to improve their efficacy both for cardiovascular health and in reducing visible signs of aging. You can read more in this post which addresses why you should butter your vegetables. And in this nourishing real food recipe for wilted dandelion greens we pair antioxidant-rich dandelion greens with clarified butter and bacon fat – a misunderstood fat that is better for you than think.
Dandelion greens are high in oxalate, an naturally occurring antinutrient found in many fruits and vegetables that binds up minerals preventing their full absorption and can contribute to kidney stones in susceptible people. Fortunately, oxalate can be easy to mitigate by simple and light cooking as called for in this recipe.
Dandelion is a strong diuretic and, in traditional medicines, it is thought to support liver, gallbladder and kidney health.
Choosing Dandelions for your Recipes
While we love this recipe for wilted dandelion greens, you needn’t limit yourself to using only the greens. Dandelion root, when roasted, can substitute for coffee and is a source of the prebiotic inulin (learn more about prebiotics and probiotics). While the flowers are excellent made into a flavored syrup, fermented into dandelion wine or soaked in alcohol to produce a tincture or cordial.
Dandelions and roadside weeds can be contaminated by environmental chemicals, so if you choose to consume those that you pick, take great care in how you choose them. Avoid choosing dandelions that are subject to roadside contamination. Similarly, if the dandelions grow in an area subject to run-off from herbicides or fertilizers, it’s wise to avoid them. And contrary to proper foraging techniques in which you’d leave the bulk of the plant – taking only a little bit from each – do remove the entire dandelion plant, tap root and all to prevent the continued proliferation of non-native species.
wilted dandelion greens with bacon and toasted mustard seed
- Place a cast iron or stainless steel skillet over a high flame and toss in mustard seeds, toasting gently until they release their fragrance – about two minutes. Transfer mustard seed to a bowl or dish to cool while you prepare the remaining ingredients.
- Reduce the heat to medium and spoon one teaspoon butter into the skillet, allowing it to melt until it begins to froth. Add chopped bacon to the butter and fry it until crisped and its fat rendered. Transfer the bacon to the dish holding your toasted mustard seed. Toss chopped shallot into the rendered bacon fat and fry until fragrant and softened, about three minutes.
- Stir in dandelion greens into the chopped shallot and bacon fat, and immediately turn off the heat as the greens will wilt in the skillet’s residual heat. Pour in two teaspoons red wine vinegar and continue stirring the greens until wilted to your liking. Transfer to a serving dish and dress with toasted mustard seed and crisped bacon.