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posted: 5/27/2014 5:30 AM

Dandelion greens freshen the flavor of cornbread

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  • Dandelion greens can be used just like arugula or spinach in recipes for stew, lasagna and cornbread.

      Dandelion greens can be used just like arugula or spinach in recipes for stew, lasagna and cornbread.
    Associated Press

 
By J.M. HIRSCH
Associated Press

Let's get the hard part out of the way. This week, I'm suggesting you eat something most people spend the better part of their adult lives trying to eradicate from their lawns. Dandelion greens. Not the flowers or stems or the puffy white seeds kids love to blow (thereby complicating your eradication efforts). Just the long, green leaves that grow toward the base of the plant. Because though we know it better as a weed, since prehistory the leaves of this plant have been gathered and consumed around the world.

Americans have been cooking with them for many years. In fact, Fannie Farmer included them in the first edition (1896) of her classic cookbook.

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The taste is a cross between arugula and kale slightly bitter and robustly peppery. They are about a foot long with a saw-tooth edge. Why try them? So-called bitter greens (of which dandelion leaves are just one of many at grocers today) work so well with so many of the flavors you already love. They go particularly well with rich, even fatty ingredients, helping to cut through those flavors much the way acid (think lemon juice) does.

A note about foraging. First, be careful. Never eat anything from an area that could have been sprayed with herbicides or other lawn treatments. Second, while wild dandelion greens are perfectly edible, they tend to be shorter and slightly more bitter than the cultivated variety found in grocers.

Dandelion greens can be refrigerated in a plastic bag for several days. For longer storage, trim the bottoms and stand in a glass of water in the refrigerator. If you find the bitterness a bit too much for you, you can cut the bitterness by blanching the greens for a minute in boiling water.

Stymied for how to use them? Consider them for any recipe you'd normally used arugula, or even baby spinach. For example, dandelion greens would be delicious mixed into the cheese of a lasagna or stuffed pasta shells. Need more ideas? Try these, as well as my recipe for cornbread studded with chopped dandelion greens, corn kernels and whole cumin seeds.

In the South, chopped fresh dandelion leaves are a classic addition to stewed pork. Or mix it up by adding to pork meatballs or a pork-based chili.

Add a handful of chopped raw leaves to your salad, but balance the bitterness with crunchy croutons and soft goat cheese and hard-boiled eggs.

For a delicious side, serve the greens raw by the bowlful. Make a lemon vinaigrette (blended with an anchovy), then heat and drizzle it over.

Saute the greens with a bit of olive oil, garlic and onions, then toss with cooked pasta and as much grated parmesan and cracked pepper as you can handle.

For a cooked side, saute the greens with a bit of garlic and bacon, then dress with lemon juice, salt and pepper.

• J.M. Hirsch is the national food editor for The Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter @JM_Hirsch.

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