As a kid, I remember my grandmother going out into the front yard with a small knife and cutting dandelion greens to braise with a little lemon and garlic for dinner. And, I also remember, I didn’t want anything to do with them.
Why do we not appreciate the wisdom of our grandparents until we’re (ahem) older ourselves? She came from a Greek tradition of eating wild greens and weeds (horta), traditionally foraged among the rocky landscape of her Aegean island, and then later cut from her American, suburban (thankfully not sprayed) front yard.
The collection and preparation of wild edible greens, herbs and “weeds” (like dandelions, fiddleheads, wild fennel, nettles, ramps, chickory and persilane to name a few), is common in Greece and is a tradition that many people, like my grandmother, brought with them when they emigrated. They’re generally prepared simply, boiled or braised to soften, with some lemon and garlic added, and a bit of oil at the end. That’s how I remember my grandmother preparing them, and as an adult, I now appreciate the wisdom in her simple dish of weeds.
Dandelion greens are very good for you. They’ve been used medicinally to treat high blood pressure and inflammation, and they act as a diuretic and an aid to digestion. They’re also high in iron, vitamins A and K, and calcium. They can be eaten raw, (raw greens are quite bitter, which some people like) but cooking offers the benefit of cutting the bitterness and tenderizing them at the same time.
One great way to eat dandelion greens is in a soufflé. Don’t be scared off by the thought of making a soufflé. They’re actually pretty easy – the lofty poof of a soufflé comes simply from a careful folding in of beaten egg whites. Soufflés are even good after they’ve fallen and cooled – just cut into wedges and serve atop a crisp salad with vinaigrette.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 4 cups dandelion greens, washed, trimmed and well chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- Juice of ½ lemon
- Salt and pepper to taste
- ⅓ cup water
- 3 tablespoons butter (plus extra for preparing soufflé dishes)
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 1 cup whole milk, warmed
- Pinch cayenne pepper
- 4 egg yolks
- 5 egg whites
- Pinch salt
- 1 cup Gruyere cheese, grated
- 4 tablespoons parmesan, grated (plus extra for preparing soufflé dishes)
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F
- Begin by buttering four 2-cup soufflé dishes (or one 8-cup soufflé dish) and dust with grated parmesan to keep the soufflé from sticking.
- In a sauté pan over medium-high heat, add the oil. Add the dandelion greens and sauté until wilted, a couple of minutes. Add the garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper and stir for a minute more. Add the water and simmer until the water has evaporated. Greens should be nice and soft. Turn off the heat and set the greens aside.
- In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the flour and whisk stirring constantly until foamy, being careful not to brown. Take the pan off the heat and add the warm milk, whisking vigorously until the mixture becomes smooth. Whisk the cayenne pepper. Add the egg yolks and whisk well. Stir in the reserved dandelion greens. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites with a pinch of salt until stiff.
- Stir one quarter of the beaten egg whites into the butter and flour mixture to lighten. Stir in the Gruyere cheese. Gently fold the remaining egg whites into the mixture until just incorporated.
- Place the soufflé dishes on a baking sheet, and gently divide the batter into the prepared dishes. Sprinkle parmesan cheese on top. Reduce the heat to 375 degrees and bake the soufflés for about 15 minutes (a bit longer if making one large soufflé) They're ready when they are puffed up (and perhaps cracked), and golden brown on top. Avoid opening the oven if possible during baking!