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First tender dandelion shoots are a welcome sight

The dandelion, one of the earliest blooming and hardiest of flowers, may have accompanied the Vikings to North America around AD 1000, having been brought along with the cattle, seeds, and hay.

Early settlers brought the plant from Europe, where it was grown for greens and salads.

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To most people the dandelion remains a weed, perhaps because once it gains a foothold it spreads rapidly, growing in sun or shade, humus or clay, even through the cracks in pavement. Perhaps we would value its virtues more if it did not run so rampant.

For those who fancy its slightly bitter flavor, the first green shoots are a welcome sight. Dandelion Greens, New England Style 4 quarts freshly picked, tender dandelion greens 1/4 pound fat salt pork, in 1/2-inch cubes 8 small potatoes, peeled

Wash greens and remove all sand. Remove yellow or broken outer leaves but don't break plants apart. Wash three times in lukewarm water, moving the plants up and down and letting the dirt settle for several minutes before lifting the greens out.

In a large kettle, bring 1 1/2 quarts of water to a boil. When it has reached a rolling boil, add greens and salt pork.

Cover kettle and simmer gently 1 1/2 hours. During last half-hour add potatoes. Do not add salt until ingredients are cooked; salt pork usually adds sufficient flavor.

To serve, lift the greens to shake off liquid, and place in a warm serving bowl.

Arrange potatoes on top, and add salt pork for garnish.

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Pass the vinegar, if desired. Serves 4. Wilted Dandelion Greens 1 pound greens 6 slices bacon, cut in strips 1/3 cup vinegar 1/4 teaspoon salt Chives, chopped

Pinch of sugar, optional

Wash greens thoroughly several times in lukewarm water; drain.

Cook bacon strips until crisp. Remove skillet together with the vinegar and salt. bacon, and add greens to the fat in the Simmer gently until greens are wilted.

Add more vinegar and pinch of sugar, if desired.

Transfer to a warm serving dish and sprinkle with chopped chives and bacon. Serves 4.

If you are not sure you would like dandelions in a salad, toss a few leaves in with other greens. Sweet and Sour Dressing for Dandelion Greens 1/4 cup salad oil 2 tablespoons lemon juice or mild vinegar 2 tablespoons honey Chopped scallions Orange sections (optional)

Mix oil, lemon juice or vinegar, and honey.

Toss with the greens and chopped scallions.

Add orange sections, if desired.

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