When I was little, my extraordinary grandmother Lloy told me that dandelions were edible. I can't remember if she collected some leaves and made a salad to prove it, but I doubt it, since their bitterness would have certainly been a turn-off to me at such a tender age. I was definitely incredulous, though. Dandelions were just that ubiquitous weed that provided hours of entertainment to a kid: the bright yellow flowers were fun to rub on the back your hands for a lurid, yellow stain. Also, the sticky milk that oozed from the decapitated stem once the head was popped off was fascinating. Most fun of all, of course, was blowing the fluffy halo of seeds of the mature dandelions into the wind. I wasn't at all tempted to nibble on this plant, but I adored the wild mint that grew on the banks of gently trickling streams and the sweet clover blossoms as well, under which you could maybe, one day, stumble upon the elusive four-leaf shamrock.
Now, as an adult, I inhabit an island that is mostly paved over, and don't have much opportunity to forage, never mind recline in verdant pastures. Also, I have completely abandoned my youthful aversion to bitter tastes and now appreciate their complexity. Yesterday, I had indulged into too many sugary treats in the afternoon, and I felt gross. I wanted something bracing, clean-tasting, and healthy for dinner, and dandelion came to mind. A little research reveals that dandelion is chock full of vitamins and minerals. Our word for this plant comes from the Old French "dent de lion," or lion's tooth, a reference to the spiky, toothy shape of the leaves. The modern French word for dandelion is pissenlit, which means "piss in bed," a reference to the plant's diuretic qualities. (The French certainly do have a penchant for colorful names. In the realm of pastry alone, off the top of my head I can think of pet de nonne: nun's fart; and tête de nègre: uh, never mind...)
Usually, dandelion, like frisée, is used as an excuse to indulge in poached eggs and lardons. Here, rather than masking the bitter taste of the dandelion, I wanted to enhance it. The bunch of dandelion leaves I found at Whole Foods was local and absolutely enormous, like a huge cluster of kale. For this recipe, you really need only as much as will fit into your salad bowl, obviously. I used half of my armful for this salad, and stored the rest in the fridge to be used for a future preparation, maybe boiled and sautéed with garlic.
Dandelion Salad with Hazelnuts and Blood Orange
- 1 bunch dandelion greens
- 1/2 large or 1 small red onion
- 2 limes
- 1/2 cup hazelnuts
- 1 blood orange
- 1/3 cup oil
- 1 T vinegar
- 1 1/2 T pomegranate syrup
- 1 t prepared mustard
Up to an hour before serving this salad, slice the onion into thin rings and toss with the juice from the limes. Allow to sit in a bowl, occasionally turning to ensure that each slice of onion gets to sit in the citrus bath and turns pink. Meanwhile, toast the hazelnuts and chop coarsely. Then, slice the ends off the orange, stand on one end, and cut away the peel and any white pith. Parallel to the flat ends, make thin slices and set aside.
Rinse the dandelion thoroughly, dry the leaves with a spinner or in towels, and rip into manageable pieces, placing them in the serving bowl. Add to the dandelion the onions (reserve the lime juice), the nuts, and the orange slices. Then, make the vinaigrette by emulsifying the oil, vinegar, pomegranate syrup, mustard, and the lime juice in which the onions were basking. (An immersion blender is ideal for this.) Pour the vinaigrette along the sides of the bowl, toss thoroughly, and serve.
For the vinaigrette, I used walnut oil and cassis vinegar, but of course, you can use whatever you feel like and have on hand. If you want to temper the bitterness a little, a chopped hard-boiled egg or some crumbled goat cheese would be a nice touch that doesn't alter the tonic character of the salad.