Don't Dismiss the Dandelion

From www.nourishschools.com by Casey Seidenberg
Don't Dismiss the Dandelion

In our house, summer with tween boys means refilling water bottles, washing sweaty sports clothes and constant reminders of the family tech rules. On the flip side, summer with a 4-year-old girl means chasing fireflies, blowing bubbles and coloring with pink sidewalk chalk. I often feel like I am in the middle of an extended tennis rally, bouncing from a serious sports debate with a tween boy to a lighthearted discussion about which princess dress I like best. The joys of parenting!

Since the boys don’t love to paint pottery and my daughter doesn’t beg to hit the batting cages, as a family we have had to get creative to find activities that satisfy everyone. One of our favorites is to take a hike. The woods provide neutral territory where older boys and pint-size girls can have fun together.

On a hike this summer, we discovered a colossal patch of dandelions. My daughter made wishes by blowing the dried seeds into the wind. The boys smeared each other’s faces with the still yellow flowers. And I picked the leaves for dinner. My family looked at me like I was nuts.

But I love dandelion greens. They are so much more than a weed. They are a nutrient-rich leafy green that adds flavor and nutrition to any soup, salad or dinner. Dandelion greens have been shown to strengthen the immune system, build bones and combat spring allergies by providing a plethora of minerals such as iron and calcium, vitamins A, C and K, protein and chlorophyll. What’s not to love?

Every part of the dandelion is useful: the root for tea, the leaves in pesto and other recipes, and the flower as a traditional yellow dye in textiles and handcrafts. If you have little kids, help them draw pictures with the yellow dandelion flower, or tell them that when blown, the dried seeds can travel in the air for up to five miles. Not bad for an everyday weed.

There are so many ways to eat dandelion greens, but the biggest hit of our summer has been dandelion greens pesto. Your kids might find it pretty cool to eat a commonplace weed, although perhaps you should buy them at the grocery store unless you are certain the ones you find in the ground haven’t been sprayed, polluted or christened by the neighborhood dog.

On a subsequent family hike, when we ran out of water, the boys clearly had the dandelion greens in mind when they asked me if there was nutritional value in drinking the water from Rock Creek. Very funny, guys.

Dandelion Greens Pesto, 4-6 servings; makes 2 cups (Recipe from the Super Food Cards)

The addition of spinach and basil in this lovely pesto helps cut the bitterness of the nutrient-dense dandelion greens.

Use it to top pasta, fish, meat or roasted vegetables. Spread it on pizza dough or add a dollop to soups. Toss it into a bean or grain salad. It's also good enough to eat straight from the jar.

Make Ahead: The pesto can be refrigerated in an airtight container, with a thin layer of olive oil on top, for up to 1 week.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups dandelion greens, stemmed
  • 4 cups spinach leaves
  • 1/3 cup packed basil leaves
  • 1 cup olive oil, plus more for storing
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts
  • 2/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt

Directions

  • Combine the dandelion greens, spinach and basil leaves in a food processor; pulse to chop evenly.
  • With the motor running, gradually add the cup of oil to form a thick green paste. Stop to scrape down the bowl.
  • Add the lemon juice, garlic, pine nuts, cheese and sea salt. Puree for 2 to 3 minutes to form a fairly smooth pesto.
  • Serve right away, or transfer to an airtight container. Pour just enough oil to cover the surface; that will help preserve the pesto's color. Seal and refrigerate for up to 1 week.

Other ways to enjoy this leafy green:

  • Chopped and cooked in an omelet with some goat cheese and fresh pepper.
  • Sautéed in olive oil with garlic and red pepper flakes.
  • Sauteed and tossed with pasta
  • Blended in a smoothie with a sweet fruit such as a banana or mango.
  • Boiled as a concentrated tea (the root is especially good for this.)
  • As a replacement for kale, Swiss chard or any of the hardier greens in any recipe. 
  • Raw in a salad: toss with spinach, red leaf lettuce and basil to balance the spicier flavor of the dandelion greens.
  • Cooked with bacon. Bacon pairs well with dandelion greens as it has been shown to reduce the bitterness.

First published in the Washington Post on Thursday, August 27, 2015.