Sunday, May 10, 2009

Dent de Lion, a Toothsome Tease

The disturbing sight of radiant yellow blossoms scattered about an otherwise impeccable emerald lawn has caused many a homeowner to clench their fists and reach for their ever ready weed whacker. Children- at home with things that move about in jagged lines and attuned to that which pokes out of the earth, puzzle over this magnificent creature otherwise cursed at. This weed, this mis-placed plant, Taraxacum officinale is a glorious beast better appreciated in earlier times when this harbinger of spring brought vital nutrition and medicinal relief to a body succumbed to torpor.

Aptly named, this plant is something of a dandy with its frilly foppish collar and a dazzling flower or two rising from the waist. Each winking golden yellow flower head, preconception pushed aside; embodies a joie de vive that encourages the young to pluck, sniff, and chomp upon them whilst merrily fashioning looped necklaces, rings, and fanciful head dresses of yore. They are not alone. Honey bees and other winged creatures too are dazzled and dine daily upon a bounty of nectar where upon this zesty spiral of life finds momentary pause when graceful seed heads waft forth far and wide. Though appearing frivolous and easy going to the outer eye, this plant has impressive survival skills evident in a presence seen throughout the world. Between seeds capable of traveling over five miles, the ability to self pollinate, adaptability to many environments, and a brittle taproot that easily splinters off in the hands of inpatient gardeners- this plant has looks, humor, and street smarts too. It is hard to imagine why this dandy lion has been cast out of the earthly garden, so woefully maligned.

Early in spring serrated leaves emerge in tight rosette formation. Not only do these spiky mandalas incite folks to get moving but the leaves bitter flavor also helps shake off winter’s coat. The bite of bitter is often associated with wild foods yet to be tamed and our modern proclivities have required cultivators to breed out disagreeable hues in our food to something more subdued. Nonetheless this acquired taste has been prized by the practical for its effect upon the body, evident in the number of tonics and nostrums created throughout history to stimulate appetite, aid in digestion, and innervate the feeble. Remove congestion in the liver, constipation, dreaded piles? Not a problem. In fact the genus name Taraxacum roughly translates to “remedy of disorders”. Not too bad for a mere backyard weed.

While domesticated taste buds may have gone flabby and soft, there is a new tide turning in the world of taste too long dominated by sweet and salty. Bitter no longer needs to be thought of as bondage and slavery, or the acrid repulsion of medicine forced upon- but now, it is being rediscovered and even celebrated a little. There is a food culture growing that is exploring the outer limit of flavor, consider the rising popularity of dark chocolate, micro brewed IPA beers, dark roast coffees, and of course digestifs. Bitter flavors are a sensory jolt which needs to be mollified and coaxed by a skilled culinary magician, to be truly enjoyed.

Perhaps this is partly why the dandelion has fallen out of favor. They are irrepressibly wild. They run rampant, refusing to stay in perfect straight lines. They’ll polka dot a lawn given half the chance and their astringent taste is unabashedly assertive, especially in summer months once festooned with flowers streaming like the sun. For those with little patience, who want life “as is”, straight-out-of-the-shoot; move on. Because a tangle with the Dent de Lion requires understanding, just like any dance with a formidable opponent. Patience, study, and appreciation are needed to realize that bitterness can actually bring out the best in other flavors, just like shadow does to light. Beyond, a tussle with the wild brings out the complexity and verve of the inner workings of things and that- plus an arsenal of nutrition is a bonafide bonus.

Note: A very grateful thank you with a dandelion bouquet to my sister for the redesign...and to Lobstersquad for help with the banner. Hope the look is easier on the eyes & the squids and jellies? Just because I love them so!

Spring Tonic Greens: I have been nonstop eating these greens for the last 3 weeks. It is quite fine with an egg on top and some of that fermented ketchup. Chock full of iron, calcium, Vit A, B complex, and potassium. Mother says, “Eat yer Greens!”

Bunch of dandelion greens, cleaned thoroughly and rough chopped
Bunch of spinach, chopped
Bunch of ramps, bulbs cut lengthwise and greens chopped (these are spectacular if you can locate some, they deserve their own post…)
Chopped onion
Chopped garlic
Olive oil/bacon fat
Salt and Pepper
White wine/splash of lemon

Directions: After cleaning and chopping all ingredients a decision needs to be made about how much bitter one can take. Nibble a dandelion leaf. Is it pleasant enough as is? If so fry up your onions and garlic in a good amount of fat, and then slowly add in your dandelion leaf and begin to cook it down. Hopefully you’ve begun with a big enough fry pan! After they’ve begun to cook down a bit, you can add your spinach, salt and pepper to taste, and some acid if you like. If the dandelion is too bitter, blanch it until bright green in boiling water- drain the water off and then add it to the already fried onions/garlic. Have fun with the process, dandelions are showy things and respond to rowdy behavior. A little chili pepper, a few raisins. Eat them hot, eat them cold, on some toast, with an egg. You get the picture.


Vivian said...

I don't think I would even know where to get dandelion greens. And ramp? I remember this from Rapunzel--that would be cool to introduce to the kids!

nansita said...

Greens, greens, you're young and alive! Yum yum, I join you with the egg. I missed "that fermented ketchup"...

Great new look for the blog, very very Cally. Congrats!


Callipygia said...

Viv- whole foods for sure, or your backyard if they're not sprayed or otherwise compromised. If flowering, they'll probably need a good blanching. Ramps, a wooded damp area or WF!

honey- And I join you, joining with me and the greens, and the egg. Oh Joy!

Gattina said...

Splendid post Calli, as always!!!
Why the assertive bitterness from watercress (when uncooked) and the bitter melon (more common in asia) is so highly sought-after, but not this D'lion's... no fair! Hey, with egg and your diy ketchup, totally over-the-top! Don't tempt me, plllleeeeease :D
Last but not the least, I really love this new design, old one is good too, but a bit bitter-sweet :P

Callipygia said...

Gattina- Other cultures embrace bitterness more, the bitter melon is a fine example of this! Thanks about the new design, would you believe it- it has been on the back burner for over 2 years? You're right it was kind of bitter-sweet!

Lucy said...

Oooo...I want to eat my lawn, now! It's polka-dotted with bobbing yellow heads, but I've always been afraid of foraging there for some unknown reason.

Love the illustration. Can't keep my eyes off it. And, and, and the new design is wonderful! Much easier on the eyes (and the jellyfish). A new look just in time for spring.

judyyb said...

Love the post, them dandelions are alittle like life
Huh? Got to enjoy the bitter a/ the sweet. And
To think they are free and available right outside
Our front door! Of course everything is yummier
With bacon!

Callipygia said...

Lucy- I know it is hard to trust food sitting in your front yard. But it is also strange purchasing a bundle of cultivated dandelions...

judyb-they are such a substantial flavor that they do need a little sweet, sour, and smokey! do you know I just heard of bacon lipgloss?