Home / Blog / 3 ways to cook with dandelions

3 ways to cook with dandelions

Dec 23, 2023Dec 23, 2023

We no longer pull up or poison dandelions, do we? Now we see them as a beneficial plant, not the scourge of our lawns.

Dandelions attract bees, ladybugs, praying mantis, predatory moths and other beneficial critters that gather their nectar. And they’re good for humans, too. We can make tea from the fresh roots, leaves and flowers. We can dry the roots, grind them and use them to make coffee, just as chicory roots were roasted and used to make “coffee” when shipments of coffee didn’t make it to Southern ports during the Civil War.

Dandelion is said to relieve stress, lower blood pressure and bad cholesterol and help your liver clear harmful toxins. It can relieve an upset stomach.

If you love bitter flavors, you don’t need any tricks to reduce what can be a profound amount of bitterness, especially in older dandelion leaves. Soaking the cleaned leaves in cold water for 30 minutes reduces some of this bitterness. Or you can balance the bitterness with equally bold flavors, such as garlic, anchovies and lemon, all which resonate beautifully with dandelion, abundant in spring throughout Sonoma County.

Pesto has long been synonymous with basil, and we expect it to be available year-round. But the word itself simply means “paste.” When basil is not in season, outside of June through September in most years, you can make delicious paste-like sauces using dandelion leaves, radish leaves, the leaves of turnips, beets and carrots, arugula, Italian parsley, cilantro, watercress, spinach, mint and more. You can’t simply substitute one thing for another, but it’s not difficult to choose flavors that go together.

Here, I pump up the garlic and anchovies because they are intensely flavored, just as the dandelion leaves are. Also, I always add either Italian parsley or spinach, to maintain the bright green color.

Makes about 2 cups

6 garlic cloves

Kosher salt

3 anchovy fillets, rinsed and dried, optional

10 ounces, approximately, dandelion leaves, washed and chopped

¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed

1 ounce Italian parsley leaves, washed and chopped

2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature

½ cup lightly toasted walnuts (see Note below)

3 ounces grated cheese, such as Valley Ford Estero Gold or Vella Dry Jack

Put the garlic cloves in the work bowl of a food processor, season generously with salt and add the anchovies. Pulse several times, until the ingredients form a paste.

Add a generous handful of dandelion leaves and a generous splash of olive oil and pulse several times. Add some parsley and pulse a few more times. Continue until you have used all the greens. If the mixture seems too dry, add a splash of olive oil and pulse again. Scrape down any ingredients that cling to the inside of the work bowl.

Use a rubber spatula to transfer the pesto from the work bowl to a mixing bowl. Fold in the butter and walnuts, taste and correct for salt. Season generously with black pepper, fold in the cheese and use right away or store, covered and refrigerated, for 2 or 3 days.

Note: Pine nuts are traditional in basil pesto and they are ideal here, too. However, there are two reasons to use a different nut. Most pine nuts in markets today come from China and can cause “pine mouth” in certain people, an unpleasant and persistent bitter taste that can last for weeks and even months. The other drawback is that even when you find pine nuts from Italy or the United States, they are pricey.

Suggested uses:

• Toss with hot pasta, spoon over steamed rice or stir into risotto or congee just before serving.

• Top soups with a generous dollop. It’s a great addition to potato soups, vegetable soups, bean soups, beef-barley soup and spring soups of rice and peas.

• Toss with hot sliced potatoes for a warm potato salad.

• Slather crème fraîche over toasted or grilled sourdough bread and top with a generous dollop of dandelion pesto.

• Spoon on top of grits or creamy polenta, or on top of baked sweet potatoes.

Potato-based soups are easy to make, flexible and delicious. In this version, you can gild the lily using dandelion pesto. If you don’t use the pesto, add a swirl of ultra-premium extra-virgin olive or a spoonful of crème fraîche on each portion.

Dandelion Leaf & Potato Soup

Makes about 6 to 8 servings

6 tablespoons olive oil

1 small yellow onion, cut into small dice

2 carrots, peeled and cut into small dice

Kosher salt

2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced

6 cups homemade chicken or vegetable stock

6 garlic cloves, crushed and minced

1 bunch (about 12 ounces, trimmed) dandelion leaves, chopped

2 ounces Italian parsley leaves

Zest of 1 lemon

Juice of 1 lemon

Dandelion Leaf Pesto (recipe above), optional

Pour half the olive oil into a large saucepan or soup pot set over medium-low heat. Add the onion and carrot and saute gently until soft and fragrant, about 12 to 15 minutes. Season with salt.

Pour in the stock, stir and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer gently until the potatoes are tender, about 10 to 15 minutes depending on how thick the slices are.

Meanwhile, pour the remaining olive oil into a saute pan set over medium heat, add the garlic and saute 30 seconds. Add the dandelion leaves, parsley leaves and ½ cup water. Cover the pan and cook until the greens wilt, about 8 minutes. Uncover, jostle the pan, season with salt and add the lemon zest and lemon juice. Stir the mixture into the potato mixture.

Stir and check to be certain the potatoes are tender. Use an immersion blender to puree all or part of the soup. Stir well, taste and correct for salt. Ladle into soup bowls or soup plates, top with a dollop of dandelion pesto, if using, and enjoy right away.

Variation: Don’t puree the soup. Add one 14-ounce can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed, with the lemon juice. Heat through.

Several years ago, Anna Tasca Lanza of the renowned wine estate Regaleali, in the center of Sicily, was a guest on my radio show, “Mouthful.” She was promoting her most recent book, “The Flavors of Sicily: Stories, Traditions and Recipes for Warm Weather Cooking” (Clarkson Potter, 1996), but also brought with her a tiny volume, which she gave to me: “Herbs and Wild Greens From the Sicilian Countryside.” This recipe, adapted from one for sow thistle, is a lovely way to use dandelions from your garden. Sow thistle is often confused with the dandelion, and they are both in the sunflower family. Let this salad rest briefly before you eat it so the leaves collapse a bit, which helps cut their bitterness.

Serves 2, easily doubled

2 to 3 ounces young dandelion leaves, torn or chopped into 2-inch lengths

Ice water

2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Kosher salt

Black pepper

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 ounce crumbled feta cheese, optional

1 teaspoon snipped fresh chives

Dandelion flower petals

Remove and discard any blemished leaves. Fill a bowl with ice water, put in the dandelion leaves and let sit for 30 minutes. Drain, tip into a clean tea towel and let sit until fully dry. Shake the towel once or twice to help release any water that clings to the leaves.

Meanwhile, put the lemon juice in a medium bowl, add a generous pinch of salt and a few turns of black pepper and stir in the olive oil. Taste and correct for salt and acid.

To finish the salad, put the dried leaves in the bowl with the dressing and turn a few times, until all the leaves are coated. Let rest for 20 to 30 minutes, then divide between individual plates and top with cheese, if using, chives and flower petals. Enjoy right away.

Michele Anna Jordan is the author of 24 books to date, including “The Good Cook’s Book of Salt & Pepper.” Email her at [email protected].