Thursday, May 20, 2010

Can You Eat: Dandelion?

Pesky little weeds... but you can eat them!

I have been looking forward to adding a Can You Eat This? Series to my blog. This is inspired by Yaya, Dennis's 83 year old Greek grandmother who still goes net fishing and picking wild herbs and berries. "You will never go hungry in Canada," she always says.  I can't wait to blog about her herb garden, fruit trees, and grape vines in the backyard. She is the woman who gave me the fundamentals to European cooking.

One of her family's favourite dish is horta, or boil greens.  Boil greens? What is so exciting about boil greens?  This grandmother goes for a walk around city of Vancouver and harvests wild greens from parks, forests, and alley way.  "Burns calories and get free vegetables,"she would say with a huge grin.  There are about 80 different kinds of greens that can be used for horta depending on the area and season.  Although dandelion is just one of them, there are 11 different types of dandelion all with different texture, flavours, and cooking methods.  Some can be eaten raw as salads, pickled, or stewed with lamb.  The flowers can be made into wine and the roots can be made into caffeine free coffee.

According to Wikipedia, dandelions contains more nutrients, health benefit, and medical benefit than spinach. "A cup of dandelion leaves contains 112% daily recommendation of vitamin A, 32% of vitamin C, and 535% of vitamin K and 218 mg potassium, 103 mg calcium, and 1.7 mg of iron. Dandelions are also an excellent source of vitamin H, which is proven to aid in weight loss when ingested."

This time, Yaya is going back to chemotherapy on Thursday, and she was eager to show me how to make horta before that, just incase.  She went into her garden and the alley way behind her garage to show me the seven different dandelions readily available around her house.

This is red dandelion (photo above). You can buy this at Whole Foods at the cost of you left arm. Or you can look around your house, parks, forest for this weed.  Yaya "cultivate" them (a.k.a. allow them to grow) in her garden. They have broad leafs and red stems.  They do not form the yellow flower with the white fluffy parachute seed ball.  These is the most popular form of dandelion for consumption and they are very versatile.  They are a little bitter and especially nice in saute with sweet pepper, egg plant, and avocado.

This is white dandelion (photo right). They look very similar to red dandelion except without the red stem. They do not form the yellow flower and the parachute seeds either. These are also been cultivated in Yaya's garden on her home-composted soil.  Usually, the leaves would not be as broad and luscious.  These are more tender and less bitter.  If they grow in the shade, they can be even more tender and delicious.  They are suitable for salads.  There is a third one which is some sort of cross between the white and the red type.  These have white broad leaves but red stem.

Then, we have the typical broad-Lobe dandelion, the one that grows out of control everywhere.  These are Yaya's flavourite dandelions, because they are packed with flavours and very tender when young.  These are easily identifiable by their yellow flower and white parachute seeds.  Instead of growing upwards, these tend to grow outwards with the leaves mostly flat on the ground.  When picking them, look for the small ones that grow in the shade.

I could not find the English name for this 5th one, vourva in Greek (photo below). We only found one in our two hour field trip.  Yaya instructed that this should be eaten separately from the rest, because of its distinct flavours. They are more common in Richmond. 

There is also a similar looking plant called false dandelion, pahoradiko.  They are fuzzy with curly broad leaves (dandelion has toothy leaves).  They are often mistaken for dandelion, but they are also edible.  Yaya boils them all together.

Next post I will talk about how to pick, clean, and cook them.

Dandelion on Foodista

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