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How to pick and prepare dandelion greens, the original spring salad

When many of you think of spring foods you are probably thinking of grilling and making all those great tasting foods that go with grilled meat and vegetables, cowboy/baked beans, three bean salad and of course potato salad.

I like all of this too, but even better are some of the first foods that we can harvest from our yards and gardens.

The first food of spring that I see and enjoy is dandelion greens.

Over the last few days, I’ve spent time walking, enjoying the spring flowers, and picking up the trash from fall and winter. I have already seen some dandelion greens that are almost ready — they just need a little rain to help their growth.

Spring is the only time to really enjoy fresh dandelion greens as this is when they are tender and mild flavored. Once they get close to blooming, their flavor gets more bitter.

When people first started eating dandelion greens, one of the first salad-like foods, they probably not realize how healthy they were — greens of all kinds are a great source of vitamins and minerals.

Nowadays, dandelion greens are grown commercially and used in spring salad mixes that you can buy in the grocery store. So, you have probably enjoyed them in a salad at a restaurant and not even known it.

If you’re digging for your own dandelion greens, there are a lot of different varieties of leaves, all with a slight difference in their flavor. I suggest you look for dark green, long leaves less than 1 inch wide.

I like to dig up the plant, roots and all, and do some serious shaking right away. My mother taught me to do what she called “dry cleaning.” Cut the root off and let all the dead leaves and dirt fall out of it. Begin rinsing the leaves in several changes of water, and sort or pick through the stems and discard any that are woody or thick.

My favorite way to enjoy dandelion greens is wilted greens. My mother called this “spring tonic.” I make a dressing by browning flour in bacon grease and then adding water, a little vinegar and sugar and cooking until it is a little thick. Drain as much water from the cleaned greens as possible and cut them into the dressing, then heat it just until the leaves are wilted.

Serve on red potatoes or mashed potatoes and garnish with crumbles of bacon and hard cooked eggs. I have also enjoyed dandelion greens with a hot bacon dressing.

If you want to store the leaves, I have found it best to store them dry in the refrigerator crisper, then rinse several times before preparing. The greens will keep for two or three days.

For more recipes and tips from Purdue Extension Educator Mary Ann Lienhart-Cross, subscribe to the Food & Nutrition email newsletter.

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