Feasting on Taraxacum

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Taraxacum is the scientific name for dandelion and while I’m trying to encourage myself to learn more scientific names to communicate effectively about species I need not bother for this one. Taraxacum officinale is our common dandelion and by far is the most common individual plant that people can happily recognise on my guided foraging walks. I feel like I’ve always known what dandelions are almost like they were part of my nurturing but my earlier interactions were much more associated with the phrase ‘Wet The Bed!’ being shouted by other kids for looking at or, if you dare, picking them. Turns out this is not solely a Northern Ireland experience and even the French name for dandelion is pissenlit – literally piss in bed. Although dandelion is a purported diuretic you can be assured that I have not (yet) had to boil wash any sheets in this house. No, the main PR problem that dandelions have is their flavour.

There is a lot of writing around how we should be including more bitter flavours in our diet because of their health benefits and although that is obviously a noble pursuit, I advocate for the consumption of dandelion as an extremely sustainable, free, abundant and surprisingly versatile green that we can all make use of and maybe even grow to love. Bitter shouldn’t be scary and it can be tempered easily through numerous simple ways that are definitely not challenging or labour intensive. This week I’ve actually gone to far as to set myself the challenge of using those raggedy leaves in as many dishes as possible and tackle the bitter issue in different ways.

This is today’s first dish. Not so much a recipe – more of an assembly. Fat and salt are your key friends here so a slice of blue cheese, I’ve used my faves Young Buck and The Grateful Bread sourdough and a smear of home made red currant and rosebay willowherb flower jelly. As these dandelion greens are uncooked the only part of this recipe is the jelly. I’ve chosen the freshest leaves here for the best texture. They should be crisp and tender for eating raw.

 

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This currant jelly is based on legendary Pam Corbin’s version. I only managed to grow about 150g of red currants this year but I just scaled down and it worked well. Simmer 1 part water to 2 parts in weight of currants until they are very soft and broken down – around 45 minutes or so. Strain through a muslin into a measuring jug. Add 75g of sugar for every 100ml of juice and return to the heat and boil rapidly until it reaches 105 degrees or until it passes the wrinkle test. While the jelly is still very hot and liquid add a few handfuls of rosebay willowherb flowers to impart some floral flavour and add a squeeze of lemon for balance and to keep that super pink colour. Strain into sterilised jars. If you wanted to keep this for more than a few weeks then boil your sealed jars for ten minutes for long term shelf life.

Serve the jelly with some of the blue cheese and some washed dandelion greens. Grilled halloumi and honey would also work or even cheddar and caramelised onion chutney in the same way. Even better is to use some light blanched dandelion leaves – shown here with some elderberry capers.

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Dandelion leaves blanched by darkness.

Producing these is a process is similar to forcing rhubarb. If you place a box or bucket  with a hole over a new dandelion plant you can encourage this to happen but I have been lucky to find some dandelions accidentally covered and protected from the light. These dandelion greens have a milder flavour and are also very beautiful.  But even without blanching the point is to make a rich cushion of flavour to envelop and welcome the bitter and crunch of some young dandelion leaves. Although I haven’t tried it yet this has inspired me to include some dandelion on eggs benedict or with a Caesar or bagna cauda dressing. Strong, salty, fatty. Actually delicious.

 

 

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