Thursday, May 24, 2012

cooking with dandelions

we live out in the country on 17 acres. and most of those acres are currently abloom with dandelions. after a long, dark winter, the bright sunshine yellow of those flowers is as welcome as the seldom sight of sunshine in the danish sky. i actually often joke that there's no word for "sun" in danish because it fell from use and everyone forgot it, but that's a slight exaggeration. there are a few elderly people who still remember it.

i'd never really tried eating dandelions before this year, aside from adding the odd leaf to a salad. i'll admit the bulk of the ones we pick actually go to our bunnies, as they're the bunnies' favorite food. they love the tender leaves and gobble up the golden yellow flowers like candy. bunnies are generally on a pretty healthy diet, so i decided they must be onto something and so i picked a colander full of the bright flowers and decided to give it a whirl.

the most time-consuming part is preparing the flowers. you have to cut off the stems and carefully peel away the little "eyelashes" of green that are stuck there - at least if you're going to make jelly or cordial. i like that amy left a bit of it on for her fritters and i'll definitely do that with the next batch. i think what's probably most important is to get rid of any of that bitter hollow stalk in the parts you're going to eat.

i've done my share of traveling the world and so i'm not afraid to mix flavors and cultures. the other night, i was making a stir-fry with black bean and garlic paste and i wanted a little snack to go with it. we love onion bhajis around here and tho' those are indian and i was making more of a chinese meal, i decided i'd give them a chinese twist by throwing in a bit of 5-spice powder. i had already decided to give them a nordic twist with the dandelion flowers, so what did another layer of culture matter?  i have to say it worked pretty well and i would repeat it.

chinese 5-spice dandelion & onion bhajis

3 medium onions, sliced
generous handful prepared dandelion flowers
2 eggs
120grams/4 oz. plain flour (or gram (chickpea) flour if you have it on hand - you can find it in indian markets)
1-2 teaspoons chinese 5-spice powder
oil for frying

slice the onions and separate them into rings. whisk together the eggs, flour and 5-spice powder in a bowl, then add the onions and dandelions and coat well.  if your egg and flour mixture seems too thick, you can add a another egg (our chickens lay rather small eggs, so i often use an extra one) or a little milk to thin it a bit. it should coat your onions and dandelion flowers nicely. heat up oil in a wok - i use sunflower oil, as it's lighter than olive oil and can tolerate high temperatures better than rapeseed oil. test with a little dollop of dough to see if the oil is hot enough. place spoonfuls of the mixture in the oil and fry in small batches.  serve it with chutney or chili sauce.

i've seen beautiful jellies made of dandelion flowers, but my family isn't into jelly, so the other thing i made with those dandelion flowers i slaved over was a cordial. i like to invent new cocktails and i used this as the basis for an early spring concoction involving vodka, fizzy water and a slice of lemon. it tasted just like a little ray of warm sunshine.

dandelion cordial

1 colander of prepared dandelion flowers
1.5 liters (6 cups) boiling water
1 kilo (4 cups) of sugar
juice of one lemon

place your prepared dandelion flowers in a glass or ceramic bowl and pour over the 6 cups of boiling water. cover with a plate and leave to set overnight. strain out the flowers using cheesecloth and a strainer and place the dandelion tea in a medium saucepan. add the sugar and lemon juice and slowly heat it to boiling. meanwhile, prepare your bottles - i generally run mine through a dishwasher cycle so they're clean and hot. then, for good measure, i rinse them with boiling water from the kettle. then i give them a little rinse with atamon, a preservative. pour in the hot liquid and seal immediately. i usually can fill one 750ml bottle and one smaller beer-bottle-sized bottle with a batch, but that actually varies - based on how much liquid you squeezed out of the flowers and how much evaporates. 

violet cordial and dandelion cordial
there's something about these foraged flower concoctions that is very satisfying. whether you're gathering violets or dandelions and preparing them, it simply takes time. there's no way around it - it takes the time it takes to pick and to prepare. and slowing down and just doing it, without trying to find an easier way or a shortcut is surely good for the soul.

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also posted on forage: east-west

1 comment:

Lucy said...

I think there's a Noma recipe where they sprinkle the petals on beetroot, the colour combo is really striking! Tom made dandelion wine once, it was OK but there was still that bitter dandelion back-taste.


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