At left is the first harvest from the yard, largely rhubarb and dandelions.
Describing dandelions as “edible” is misleading. The term suggests that they should only be eaten in survival situations. (Would you ever describe spinach, or cheese, or pork, as merely “edible”?)
In reality, dandelions are a treasured leafy green in several European cuisines. They even have an entry in Larousse. Some excerpts from that article:
- “the English name is derived from the alternative French name dent-de-lion (literally ‘lion’s tooth’, referring to its serrated leaves)”
- “Wild dandelion leaves should be picked before the plant has flowered…, when they are small and sweet.” This line confuses me a bit. While our dandelion leaves are definitely better when small and tender, I find that they still have a pronounced (but pleasing) bitterness. I have never tasted a dandelion leaf I would describe as sweet. Perhaps we have a different variety than the Europeans?
- “In salads, dandelions are traditionally accompanied by diced bacon and garlic-flavoured croutons…, hard-boiled eggs or walnuts.”
I love dandelions because they are one of the first weeds to pop up after the snow melts. The bacon-dandelion salad mentioned in Larousse has become a cherished springtime lunch in my kitchen.
You can also give the roots and flowers a go. The roots have the same bitterness as the leaves, obviously with an added crunch. The flowers are very fun to eat. They have a slight sweetness.
Instead of the classic hard-boiled egg I like to use a soft-poached egg. When broken, the fatty yolk runs through the leaves and tempers their bitterness. The dressing is usually made with cider vinegar, a touch of mustard, a touch of bacon fat, and canola oil.
This salad goes well with Weissbier.
This is one of my favourite ways to showcase my maple syrup. A simple oat cake is baked, then cut into squares and cooled. The baking dish is then filled with hot maple syrup, which the cake soaks up like a sponge. Essentially a lazy man’s pouding chômeur (a lazy man’s poor man’s pudding?)
Oat Cake in Maple Syrup
- 1 cup rolled oats
- 1 1/4 cup boiling water
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter
- 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp baking soda
For the soaking syrup:
- 2 cups maple syrup
- 2 cups water
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 9″x14″ casserole.
- Combine the oats and water. Set aside.
- In a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time until incorporated.
- Sift dry ingredients into a separate bowl. Slowly add to butter mixture with mixer on lowest speed. Scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl periodically.
- Fold in the oats.
- Pour the batter into the casserole. Bake until a wooden skewer comes out clean, about 25-30 minutes. Cool.
- Once the cake has cooled, cut into serving squares without removing from the casserole. Heat the maple syrup mixture on the stove, then pour over the cake. Let stand for several hours. Gently warm in a low oven before serving. Spoon any syrup left in the bottom of the casserole over the plated cake. Serve with ice cream.
If you think that it’s weird to eat dandelion, or you find the bitter flavour unpalatable, you should try eating another common weed: lamb’s quarters. It is the perfect gateway weed, very approachable, with a texture and flavour quite similar to spinach. Lamb’s quarters are popping up everywhere, and now is the best time to pick them, when the plants have only a few leaves, for the following reasons:
- The young leaves are the most tender.
- The young leaves taste the best. Older leaves are a little more bland, with a wood flavour.
- Picking the leaves prevents the plant from going to seed. Once the plant goes to seed, it stops producing leaves, and it doesn’t taste as good. As a side note, when lamb’s quarters do go to seed they look uncannily similar to amaranth and quinoa… I haven’t done it yet but I’m super curious to know if the seeds could be used as a grain.
I suppose the above statements apply to most edible perennials that are coming into season.
You can easily identify lamb’s quarters by the distinct shape of the leaves, shown below.
I use lamb’s quarters exactly as I use spinach: it can be added raw to salads, or wilted into hot dishes like stew.