In my memory, I’m seven and playing in the front yard of our Portland, Oregon, home with my brother. I extend my hand, clutching a dandelion puff, and thrust it in front of his face. “Make a wish.” He closes his eyes, draws in a breath, and blows so hard that the seeds, along with his spit, spray across our lawn, already moist from the morning sprinkler and kept trim and green by our Roundup-ready father. Even drenched in herbicide, the lawn sprouts new dandelions the next summer.
Years later, I spotted dandelion at the grocery store, wedged in between the watercress and parsley. I eyed the bundle of spiny leaves for some time, thinking back to those Roundup summers. Clearly, they were meant to be eaten, which hadn't dawned on me before. They struck me as the kind of edible that might have been popular during The Great Depression, where anything sprouting from dirt that didn’t kill you would be snatched up and stirred into the nightly soup pot. Nettles, chickweed, grasshoppers, why not?
More recently, Paul and I cozied up to a bar at one of Washington D.C.’s top restaurants. I peered over the menu and spotted dandelion, offered up in a salad married to a carmelized pear. When the plate arrived, I unfolded my white linen napkin and pushed around the leaves suspiciously before spearing a few into my mouth. The astringent greens stood up brightly next to the sugary pear. It was tasty, but didn’t leave me running with garden shears to the nearest weedy park.
After creating this creamy dandelion sauce, inspired by a Yotam Ottolenghi recipe that employs watercress instead of dandelion, my mild fascination has turned to an obsession. I prefer the dandelion, in part because I can always find it organic and in part because it reminds me of those summers with my brother. Chocked with mustard seed and garlic and blended with luscious, full-fat sour cream, this sauce transforms the bitter dandelion into a flavor-packed accompaniment to salmon, steak, or just plain lentils for a vegetarian lunch.
Salmon with Black Lentils and Dandelion Cream
Salmon (for two large portions or three medium portions)
3/4 pound salmon, skin on, cut from the tail (the tail has few or no bones)
Salt and pepper
Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the salmon in a glass baking dish. Coat it thinly with olive oil and season both sides generously with salt and pepper. Place it skin side up in the oven for about 18 minutes or until the salmon is cooked through but still has a tinge of pink in the center.
Braised black lentils
1 cup lentils, rinsed
2-1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock*
1/2 yellow onion, finely diced
1 small carrot, finely diced
1 small celery stalk, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced (if you’re in a big hurry, you can ditch the carrot, onion, and celery, and just add the garlic)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
In a medium-sized saucepan, heat the olive oil until hot but not smoking. Add the garlic, onions, carrots, and celery and sauté about 3 – 4 minutes. Add lentils, and stir for 30 seconds, and then add the chicken stock. Season generously with salt and pepper. Simmer, uncovered, for about 30 – 35 minutes until the lentils are soft (if they dry out, add more liquid). Taste to adjust seasoning again before serving.
*I find that the amount of liquid really varies depending on the level of heat and the diameter of the pan. I usually keep adjusting until the liquid is evaporated and the lentils are cooked through and tender but not mushy.
1-1/4 cup chopped dandelion leaves
1 heaping tablespoon of grainy mustard
1 heaping tablespoon of smooth, extra strong Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup of full fat sour cream (low fat sour cream is terrible in this recipe); add slightly more sour cream if you like a creamier sauce with fewer bitter notes)
2 garlic cloves, blanched in boiling water for 30 seconds
Salt to taste (about 1/4 teaspoon)
In a Cuisinart or blender, blitz all ingredients until creamy and smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning or mustard level if necessary.