I am so fortunate to have had family time in Grand Marais Minnesota this week. This is a tiny, adorable, bustling tourist town with a permanent population that hovers around 1,300 people. If you have never been to the arrowhead region of Minnesota along the shore of Lake Superior, let me briefly explain. Vast icy waters, rocky basalt cliffs and outcrops into the lake, neon lichens and wild flowers, multicolored cobblestone beaches, cool breezes and excellent sleeping weather, seagulls, pine trees, lake fish, excellent hiking...majestic beauty anyone? Yeah, it's that magical. I am soaking it into my soul.
So, after a lot of deliberation, and testing of other recipes, I went back to the drawing board and looked out the window on an excellent wild harvesting opportunity which was right under my nose. Pedestrian as it is, dandelion is an age old foodstuff that has medicinal uses and the flowers make a very good wine.
Now, I will admit, if even kale is too bitter for you then dandelion greens may not be your thing, but I have always encouraged my clients, friends, and family to consider expanding their palate through exposure to allow for more bitter tastes. I feel this is a flavor often left out of the American diet save for coffee, tea, and maybe very, very dark chocolate. Once you start getting used to bitter greens, you may even begin to crave them. There is a wonderful contrast when they are served with fatty or rich foods, comfort foods like potatoes, starches and pasta, or good bread and cheese. Maybe dandelion greens can be your gateway to radicchio and broccoli raab. Don't say I didn't warn you.
One extra step you can take if you want to enjoy the greens but want to reduce the bitterness factor is blanching the greens briefly first. After the greens are washed and the ends are trimmed, immerse the greens in a pot of boiling water for 2 minutes. Drain the greens and shock them in a bowl of ice water. Then remove excess water with a towel and proceed to chop them and braise them according to the recipe. I found that the greens I used were only mildly bitter and did not require blanching. I also tend to enjoy bitter flavors.
I almost always use a base of sauteed onion with greens, especially more bitter or sharp greens, and here I use sweated onion and garlic. The braise takes a little time but the whole process should take no more than an hour with little oversight. The addition of a little honey and vinegar round out the flavors and chopped nuts add texture. Hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans or even toasted pine nuts are all lovely.
Make sure to wait to salt the greens until after they are braised and the liquid is cooked off. This way you will avoid over salting them. Also, I just had water on hand but a flavorful stock or broth of any kind would be great choices for braising liquid. Grating a hard cheese such as Parmigiano Reggiano, Grana Padano, Pecorino Romano, or Asiago is also a wonderful way to finish the dish.
Free greens for everybody! Enjoy these delicious, abundant, and nutritious greens anytime you come across a pristine patch of dandelion! They also freeze well, just leave out the nuts.
Braised Dandelion Greens
- Dandelion greens - enough to make three cups when chiffonaded and chopped small (see picture). As a guide, the bunch I picked were about 8 to 10 inches long. I was just able to get my middle finger to touch my thumb when gripping them about 1/3 third the way up from the bottom of the leaves. Get as close as you can to 3 cups finely sliced/chopped and if there is a little left over, toss them in too!
- 1 C thinly sliced yellow onion
- 1 large clove garlic, 1/8 inch slices
- 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 Tbsp honey
- 2 Tsp vinegar, your choice
- 3 Tbsp chopped nuts (hazelnut, pecan, walnut, pine nut- toasted or untoasted nuts are fine)
- salt and pepper to taste
Wash the greens well in a large bowl, immersing them and agitating them in three changes of water or until no sediment is present in the bottom of the bowl. Pat the greens dry and cut off one inch of the bottom stems. Bring the greens together tightly and slice them in long, thin ribbons 1/8 in wide. Now gather the greens in a mound and chop them in the other direction several times.
Bring a saute pan with a lid or small pot with a lid to low/medium heat. Sweat the garlic and onion with the olive oil while stirring occasionally 5 to 6 minutes until the onion softens and begins to become translucent. Do not brown the onion or the garlic because you want a sweet undertone to balance the bitterness of the greens. Add the greens and 2 cups of water or stock. Simmer the greens, covered, for 25 minutes. Now remove the lid and cook off the braising liquid. When the cooking liquid is almost gone, remove the pan from the heat. Add the honey and vinegar and season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer the greens to a serving dish and top with the chopped nuts. You may want to try tossing the greens immediately with fresh pasta and top with grated hard cheese. Enjoy!