Once considered lawn wreckers, Urvashi believes we should embrace dandelions, especially when their leaves, flowers and roots can make a versatile and tasty ingredient.
It’s most definitely Spring. Wild garlic is sprouting up alongside muscari and my fritillaries, the sun’s shining and those dandelion ‘weeds’ are starting to come up all over the place. It’s only in our modern day world that these are considered a weed. Considered to be lawn wreckers by some, they are subjected to all sorts of torture by chemicals and the dreaded fork. But in days of old, this ‘weed’ was rich pickings for the daily diet. The flowers, leaves and root are all edible and used in many different ways – teas and tonics to fritters and bread.
The name comes from the French ‘dent de lion’ which literally translated means ‘lion’s tooth. I guess this refers to the jagged leaves which look a little like sharp teeth. The French grows these widely for culinary use in the same way that we grow lettuce and microgreens.
Seems such a shame to toss them into the compost when they are such a sunny, happy looking plant. Now is really the best time to pick them. They are only just starting to pop up, so source leaves that are thin and part of a plant that has not yet budded. These will be earthy, a little nutty and not so bitter. Also source them somewhere they are unlikely to have been chemically sprayed. I don’t have a great lawn but we usually get a few plants come up at this time of year. My allotment however had lots this weekend. I had to stamp the nettles down a little to get to them but my neighbours humoured and helped.
The small, thin leaves can be tossed straight into salad with rocket, baby spinach and watercress. The thicker leaves need a little steaming and pairing with other flavours to mitigate the bitterness. It all seems like a palaver really but they are so packed full of vitamins which are retained when cooking that it’s hard to discount them.
To prepare them, just give them a really good wash with cold water, pour boiling water over them and then leave them to soak for a few minutes. You could also lightly steam them with garlic in the same way as you would chard. I chopped up the leaves and used them in place of spinach in this
Feta and Dandelion Tart
200g plain flour
100g cold butter - cut into cubes
20g butter – melted for greasing the baking tin
2 tbsp iced cold water
300ml crème fraiche
100g feta cheese
2-3 handfuls of dandelion leaves – roughly chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
50g sunflower seed or pine nuts
1. First make the pastry. Put the flour, salt and butter into a food processor and blitz on pulse setting until it all looks like fine breadcrumbs. You could do this by hand if you don’t have a food processer.
2. Whisk the egg and iced water together and slowly add to the breadcrumb mixture until it comes together into a ball of pastry dough.
3. Knead lightly on a floured surface and then roll into a sausage shape (if using a rectangular tin) or ball (if using a circular tin). The shapes just make it easier to roll.
4. Cover in cling film and pop into the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
5. When you are ready to make your tart, preheat the oven to 200C and grease your tart tin with lots of melted butter.
6. Roll your pastry out to around 5mm thick and then line the tart tin with it pressing it firmly into the corners and sides. Cut off any overhang and press done again gently.
7. Put this into the freezer while you make the filling.
8. Mix the crème fraiche and eggs together well and season to your taste. As with spinach you could also grate in a little nutmeg.
9. Add the chopped dandelion leaves and mix again.
10. Take the lined tart tin out of the freezer, lay over some foil or baking paper and fill with some baking beans or rice.
11. Bake for 15 minutes and then take the beans off and bake again for 5 minutes.
12. Take it out of the oven and leave to cool slightly and then break over the feta evenly on the base so you have nice chunks in places.
13. Pour over the crème fraiche mixture and bake for another 30 minutes until it’s golden brown and puffed up on top.
14. Leave to cool in the tin and meanwhile lightly toast the sunflower seeds or pine kernels in a dry frying pan.
15. Toss the seeds or kernels over the top of the tart when you are ready to serve. We had this with a little side salad of tomatoes and onions.
Have you ever cooked with dandelions? What would you suggest?
Inspired? For more foraging recipes
visit Great British Chef collection.