Monday, August 19, 2013

Dandelion Green Salad with Pecans and Roasted Beets

All photos in this post courtesy of the talented Ellen Kyle.
Starting in the spring and continuing throughout most of summer, fresh, farm-raised dandelion greens make periodic appearances in stores and farmers' markets.  These farm-raised greens are often less bitter and more tender than their lawn-grown cousins. Plus, they're guaranteed to be free of lawn pesticides and other unwanted substances that might find their way onto locally-foraged morsels. :)

I got my hands on some fresh dandelion greens and set to work to make the delicious salad pictured above. Read on for the health benefits of dandelion greens, culinary tricks that will help you balance their bitterness when composing salads, and the recipe for the dandelion green salad I made.

Dandelion Health Benefits

Dandelion greens have become trendy in the last several years, in part thanks to media outlets touting the health benefits of "wild" greens. Case in point: this recent NPR book review of the book Eating on the Wild Side. Jo Robinson, the book's author, says that a serving of dandelion leaves has double the calcium, triple the vitamin A, quintuple the vitamins K and E, and eight times the antioxidants found in a similar sized serving of spinach. Who's the superfood, now? Take that, spinach!

Tips to Handle Bitter Greens

However, if you're not accustomed to bitter greens like radicchio or arugula, the flavor of dandelion greens may shock you.  While some people may never grow to like the taste of bitter greens, there are a few actions and pairings that can help balance the leaves' bitterness.
  • Pair your greens with a vinegar-and-oil -based dressing. The contrasting sourness of the vinegar can help intensify the sweetness in the leaves 
  • Dandelion fanatics swear that the leaves taste great with bacon
  • Blanch the leaves for about 30 seconds before drying and using (blanch = dip in salted boiling water)
  • Adding something sweet to the mix can help, like ripe cherry tomatoes, roasted beets, or even candied pecans.
  • Fats (olive oil in the dressing, or goat cheese) can increase palatability
  • Make sure your food is properly salted, as salt can lessen bitterness to an extent
  • The bitterness of dandelion leaves will vary across plants and the season
I use a few of these tricks in my dandelion leaf salad recipe, below.

Recipe for Dandelion Green Salad

1 bunch of dandelion greens, rinsed, dried, and chopped
1 large beet (about the size of a large apple), diced and roasted as described below
~1 cup toasted pecans, halves or chopped, more or less to taste. Toasted pine nuts would also be good.
Dressing of your choice (I made a mustard vinaigrette. Recipe below.)
1 fresh lemon, cut into wedges
  • Place chopped dandelion greens in a bowl.
  • Dice your beet(s) into 1 inch cubes and toss with a light coating of olive oil, kosher salt, and fresh ground black pepper. Spread out on a lined baking sheet and bake at 400F until soft when pierced with a fork, about 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool. Tip: I tend to buy several pounds of beets and prepare them all at once so I have extra as a side dish at other meals.
  • Toast pecans by spreading them evenly on a baking sheet and baking in a 400F oven for about 5 minutes, or until lightly fragrant. Watch carefully, as you can easily burn them. Alternatively, fry pine nuts in a small quantity of olive oil over the stovetop, stirring periodically until golden brown.
  • Toss greens, beets, and nuts (adjusting amount of beets or nuts to your liking and based on how big your bundle of greens is) in a bowl. Toss salad with dressing or add salad to bowls and top with desired amount of dressing. Squeeze a wedge of lemon over the top of each salad before serving.

Recipe for Mustard Vinaigrette

This yields about 1 1/3 cup of a thick salad dressing. You can thin it out if you like by adding less mustard or more oil and vinegar.

4 T coarse-grain/very rustic dijon mustard
1/2 cup olive oil
4 to 6 T balsamic vinegar or red wine vinegar
5 T minced onion (~1/4 small or medium onion)
~1 tsp kosher salt
~2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
2 tsp lemon zest

  • Mix ingredients together well. You can make the dressing in advance and keep it in the fridge for a few days. Stir well again prior to pouring desired amount over salad.
  • This recipe makes a generic amount of dressing. It's not a perfectly optimized amount for the salad recipe, so add only the desired amount to your salad depending on your tastes -- or make more, if your salad is looking big.
  • Toss with dressing only before serving. A dressed salad will wilt and start to rot quickly, even if kept in the fridge.
Do you have any tips or tricks for enjoying bitter greens? If so, I'd love to hear them. Please share below in the comments, tweet me, or message me on facebook!