Dandelion buffet

Andreae Prozesky roars with the ‘lions.

I find dandelions impressive, I really do.

This might be due to my never having owned a lawn, or to my admiration for anything that dares to be bright yellow when it’s been 2 degrees for a week and it’s the beginning of June.

My parents are both foragers. When I was a kid my father conducted numerous experiments in winemaking, with just about anything as a base: blueberries, potatoes, dandelions. In the summer my mother would send my sister and me ankle-deep into Rennie’s River to pick enormous bouquets of wild mint. Over the years, I’ve managed to learn which bits of urban greenery are edible, and which ones would kill a human my size. Generally, I’ve been far more interested in which plants were poisonous than in which ones made a decent meal. Water hemlock is far more effective for the imaginary doing-away-with of one’s adversaries than, say, dandelion.

Dandelion, however, is far more effective as a companion for ice cream.

When I have eaten dandelion—and, I’ll admit, it hasn’t been often—it’s always been the leaves. Dandelion greens are delicious if you’re someone like me whose tongue is set up to enjoy bitter flavours. You have to collect the leaves very early in spring, before the plants have sent up flowers. They are still tender then, and not too assertive. They taste kind of like arugula, and are lovely in a salad. You can sauté the leaves with onions and garlic, or throw them in a soup, or whatever it is you normally like to do with sturdy greens like turnip tops or chard. If you find them too bitter, you can pair them with something sweet, like parsnips, beets, or raisins.

Now that I think of it, a sauté of dandelion greens with garlic, raisins, a splash of white wine, and some goat’s cheese sounds pretty good right now.

But let’s say you’ve missed the no-flowers-yet window. Sadly, the leaves will be tough and not very tasty. And what you’re left with are the flowers. You know the thing they say about the world and the giving of the lemons and the lemonade-making? This is the floral equivalent of that.

Edible flowers are all the rage at the fancy restaurants, but they’re usually garden flowers like nasturtiums, or roses, or violets. The poor, neglected dandelion flowers, believe it or not, taste like sunshine. You can break them up and add them raw to a salad, or throw them into a cake. Or you can do what I did last night: batter them, fry them, and eat them with ice cream.

I’ve been heard to say—in public even—that there is no food that isn’t improved by being dipped in batter and thrown into hot oil. Although I don’t hold to that motto like I used to (“hallelujah!” holler my arteries), the practice still has its place. A light, airy batter and good quality oil work together to turn yellow dandelion heads into delicious golden pillows. Some of the recipes I’ve found call for the fritters to be eaten with jam or maple syrup, but I thought I’d take it in a Mexican sort of direction and add honey and cinnamon. I don’t know whether they have dandelions in Mexico, but they seem to know a thing or two about tasty fried desserts down that way.

If you’re anxious about the frying, don’t be. Just have everything ready to rock before you heat your oil, and it should all go smoothly. It’s not a ton of oil, but it will spit a little, so keep small children away from the stove (like you would). Pick extra dandelions so that any youngsters can busy themselves making crowns while you’re hovering over your little sizzling flower puffs of magical delight.

One more thing – and this really goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway – make sure your dandelions are from somewhere that hasn’t been sprayed with pesticides. The edges of main thoroughfares should be avoided, too, as the ground will be contaminated with car exhaust. Lucky for us, this still leaves a whole lot of the city’s green and grey space packed with dandelions, all ready for the munching. There’s more to this recipe than the instant gratification of dandelions for dessert. You can take comfort in the fact that, when the shit goes down and society as we know it crumbles, and the mega-giant-superstores are all closed, you can walk along any sidewalk in town, grab a bunch of smiling yellow flowers and devour them.

And isn’t that a good thing to know?
Send your questions, comments, and sun-shiny suggestions to dreae@thescope.ca

Dandelion flower fritters

1 egg
1 cup milk
2 teaspoons honey
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch sea salt
1 cup unbleached white flour
24 dandelion flowers, rinsed and dried

Canola or grapeseed oil for frying
Vanilla ice cream and honey to serve

In a small bowl, whisk egg, milk, honey, cinnamon, and salt. Beat in flour. Let stand about 5 minutes.

Remove stems from dandelions. They are very bitter. You should have the green bit left that holds all the petals together, but no milky stem at all.

In a frying pan, heat about a half-inch of oil to medium-high. One by one, swirl flowers in batter and carefully place them stem-side-up in the pan. A large-ish pan will fit about a dozen at a time. Watch to make sure the first fritters in don’t burn. When they’ve reached a nice golden brown, turn them over for a few seconds, and then remove to a paper towel or newspaper.

Serve fritters warm with good vanilla ice cream and honey.

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