out to be a disappointment. After all, anyone with even a slight aversion to bitterness could dismiss their taste as unpalatable, even when cooked and slathered in butter. The key is to know what you are doing, and once you do, these prolific greens can be enjoyed as a nutritious vegetable.
can be anywhere from three to 18 inches long. But a lot can be told by the colour. Avoid leaves that have marks, insect damage, or are dark green, which tend to be outer leaves that are older, more bitter and tougher. Bright green indicates youthful, rapid growth.
All about timing
Harvesting and managing bitterness
The dandelion has six edible parts: leaves, flower buds, upper bud stem, flowers, heart and roots. The flavour and texture of these greens (and greens in general) can vary wildly depending on the growing conditions and their stage of life (think of how tender baby spinach compares to a more mature, tougher version of the same plant). Bitter-free dandelion leaves are most often found in the early Spring, but even then they can be difficult to find. John Kallas speculates that this plant’s bitterness is influenced by three factors: excessive sun, slow growth and root storage of bitterness. “The first and most important source of bitterness for dandelions is sunlight. Dandelion’s bitter chemicals are made in proportion to the amount of sunlight the leaves receive. The more intense and longer the duration of sunlight baking a leaf, the more bitter it will be. Conversely, less bitter greens are produced during a period of rapid spring growth; the plant receives a low amount of sunlight since the sun is still low in the sky and the days are short,” writes Kallas. When searching for non-bitter greens, look for quick growth, advises Kallas. The more rapid, the less bitter the greens, even in the summer. So how do you identify leaves undergoing rapid growth? “Look for luxuriant growth where the leaves look so good they could be sold in the produce section of a supermarket,” he says, and select the center-most elevated leaves that aren’t touching the ground. In this case, size doesn’t matter. Rapidly growing leaves
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In certain circles, the dandelion is widely revered for its uses in both food and medicine. This weed is perfectly safe to eat and offers inspiration to culinary enthusiasts who are only limited by their imagination.
Kallas advises keeping three things in mind when foraging for edibles. Know the habitat and be aware of potential contaminants in the surrounding environment—harvesting wild edibles along a busy roadside or industrial area is an obvious no-no. Keep the leaves fresh in transit and don’t allow the milky juice to bleed onto and stain the leaves. Bitterness can be managed in two ways: Learn to love it or work dandelions into other food dishes to dilute their strong taste. Instead of overpowering the meal with bitterness, dandelions can add character to its flavour. Boiling anywhere from four to eight minutes is touted as one of the best methods of reducing much of the bitterness. The buds, flowers, hearts and stems should not be forgotten in the context of harvesting and cooking dandelions. Sweetly flavourful, fresh petals can be used as garnishes in salads and sandwiches and even fermented into wine. The hearts can be oiled and baked with other foods like mushrooms and quinoa for a hearty dish that eats like a meal.
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