Dandelions — a spring tonic

Flower power: Dandelions have a deliciously bitter taste and nutritional value.

By Donna Zitter Bordelon

Give me coffee to change

the things I can change,

Gin to accept the ones I cannot, and

Dandelion greens as a spring tonic.

“How can you eat those weeds?” gasped the city girl from Kensington, sitting at the dinner table with her in-laws who resided in the then-outskirts of Northeast Philadelphia — the farmlands of Upper Holmesburg.

She had never eaten dandelions. But her appetite certainly changed. In fact, my mom, after eating those “weeds,” developed such a passion for them that they were always on our table in the spring. According to my dad, dandelions were a spring tonic — an energy pick-me-up.

Back then, if we wanted a second dose of “spring tonic” after our own dandelion supply was depleted, we would venture to one of the Italian produce stores in Tacony (Northeast Philly’s version of “Little Italy”), where we knew the greens were sold. These stores are just a memory now, but dandelion greens are grown commercially today and are available now in many local produce departments.

Dandelions have a deliciously bitter taste, somewhat on the order of arugula. These weeds have great nutritional value. Dandelion greens are loaded with vitamins K, A, C, B6, calcium and iron, and are high in fiber. If harvesting from lawn to table, young dandelion greens should never be taken from fertilizer/chemical/pesticide-sprayed lawns. Dandelion greens are best eaten before their flowers appear, as their leaves are more tender then. Dandelion flowers (it takes a couple of quarts of them) also can be made into wine.

Many, many years ago, this recipe came from Austria with my grandmother.

DANDELION SALAD WITH WARM BACON DRESSING

¾ lb. dandelion greens, chopped into 1-inch pieces

½ small red onion, chopped

Wash dandelion greens well. Chop, dry and put into a large bowl.

Top with chopped red onions and make the dressing.

Dressing:

5 slices bacon, cooked, chopped

2 Tbsp. onion, finely minced

2 Tbsp. flour

1/4 tsp. dried mustard

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1 cup water

1/4 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. pepper

In a small frying pan, cut bacon into small pieces and fry until bacon is crisp. Remove bacon and set aside. Reserve about ¼ cup bacon drippings in the pan. Add onion to pan and saute for a few minutes until onions soften.

Add flour and stir into drippings.

Add mustard, sugar and stir.

Add vinegar, water, salt and pepper. Stir and cook for a minute until mixture just thickens.

Sprinkle bacon bits over salad, add dressing, toss and season with additional salt/pepper, if desired.

Serve the following dandelion greens as a cooked side dish.

SAUTEED DANDELION GREENS

1 lb. dandelion greens, chopped into 3-inch pieces

1/2 cup olive oil

1 large onion, sliced thin

1 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 Tbsp. lemon juice

Salt and pepper to taste

Wash greens well, and cut into 3-inch pieces.

In a large pot of boiling, salted water, add dandelion greens and cook for 3–4 minutes. Drain greens and set aside in a strainer to remove all excess water.

In a large frying pan, heat olive oil and add onions, salt and pepper flakes. Stir all together, coating the onions with oil.

Cook and stir over medium heat for about 10 minutes or until onions turn golden.

Add garlic and cook 1 minute more.

Add the dandelion greens to the pan and stir.

Saute greens/onions for 3–4 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Just before serving, add lemon juice and stir.

Taste and adjust salt and pepper.

If you’d rather drink your greens, substitute some dandelion greens in your favorite juicing recipe. Or, try a green smoothie by mixing some dandelion greens, your favorite berries, a banana, coconut juice, chia seeds, yogurt and some honey. Blend together until smooth.

Eat well, live long, enjoy!

(Ques­tions or tips can be sent to Donna Zit­ter Bor­de­lon at Whats-cook-inNEPhilly@gmail.com or in care of the Times, 2 Executive Campus, Suite 400, Cherry Hill, NJ 08002)

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