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What do they know that I don't? That is what I ask myself each spring. There they are—dozens of families harvesting greens near the railroad tracks along de Maisonneuve boulevard or in fields along the Trans-Canada. Why am I not there too?

Well, actually I know what they are doing—they are harvesting dandelions. I just keep forgetting how wonderful a plant this is until it is too late in the season. This year will be different. I have already cooked my first bunch—culled from the supermarket and I am looking forward to when those first sharp toothed leaves poke up in our backyard.

Dandelions are a green rich in Vitamin A and C. They also have iron, fiber, protein and a little carbohydrate. More importantly, they are there for the picking.

If I knew how to use dandelions to their fullest, I would make dandelion wine and jelly from the flowers, a chicory-like coffee substitute from the roots as well as use the stems and leaves in salads. Once the plants were grown indoors, in dark cellars. The white root and stem were as prized as white asparagus and endives are today. Now they are considered a nuisance and a weed. That's too bad since they are an exceptional wild harvest for those that like strong tasting greens.

The trick is to get them young, before the flowers have budded. The younger they are harvested, the less bitter the leaf. Those sold in market tend to be long in the tooth. They are not as tender as what will soon be growing on my lawn.

Cook them like spinach. Some recipes recommend blanching but even a robust 5 minute boil doesn't get rid of too much of the bitterness. The stems are not as bitter as the leaves. Chopped into the size of green beans, they are a good addition to a green salad.

Serve the leaves simply, either added to a salad or dressed with a fragrant hot olive oil dressing in which minced garlic and crushed hot peppers have stewed for a few minutes.
Another way of serving dandelion greens is to boil them, drain them well and then cook them in an ounce or two of finely chopped bacon.

If they are very tender try a traditional Pissenlits salad (they are called pissenlits because of supposed diuretic qualities). Hard boil 2 eggs and cut them into quarters. Wash and dry a 1/2 pound (250 grams) of dandelion greens. Cook a clove of chopped garlic with a quarter pound (125 grams) of bacon that has been cut into small pieces. Toss in a half dozen small cubes of stale bread and brown these as well. When the bacon is browned. Toss everything, including the fat, over the dandelion leaves. Deglaze the pan with a few tablespoons of flavoured vinegar (fruit, wine or cider vinegar works well). Pour the hot vinegar onto the salad and toss the greens well. Add the hard boiled egg slices and serve.

© Barry Lazar 2001 Email Flavourguy

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