Who doesn’t like pesto? Basil, Spinach…. but Dandelion? I was introduced to these greens by Katy Osuna, a young, very talented chef and fellow alum of the International Culinary Center. She and I were finalists at the Michelin Star LUCE Intercontinental Culinary Clash 2016 and it was Katy’s recipes that won won us the trophy.
Our winning appetizer dish was a Ricotta Gnudi with Dandelion Greens Pesto. My first taste and I was blown away by its earthy flavor. I was elated to find a new leaf vegetable to experiment with. But.. I learnt that Dandelion Greens have been around for quite some time.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is a perennial plant with bright yellow flowers that turn into silver tufted fruits that disperse in the wind. Who has not done that?!! It is also called dent de lion in French, meaning “lions tooth” because of the coarse shape of the leaves.
In her book The Teeth of the Lion: The Story of the Beloved and Despised Dandelion, Anita Sanchez speculates the origins of dandelions to be in North Africa and Eurasia. The seeds were probably brought by ship to North America in the 17th century, as one of the raw materials in the ship’s ballast.
Most of us associate Dandelions with weeds and yes they are that, found flourishing in so many lawns, playgrounds, roadsides, and parking lots but not many of us know their medicinal or nutritional value. The entire plant is full of vitamins A, B, C, and D, as well as minerals, such as iron, potassium, and zinc. Dandelion Greens in particular have the highest Vitamin A content of all the greens. A Dandelion has more iron and calcium than broccoli and spinach.
Arabs get the credit to be the first to use it in medicine in the 10th and 11th centuries. The ancient texts refer to the dandelion as a wild endive. Interestingly, it is cultivated in India in the Himalayas (Indian name – Kukraundha or Kanphool or Seema Mulanghi) and the roots and flowers (an excellent source of lecithin) are used as a remedy for liver complaints. The leaves are predominantly used as a diuretic for flushing out excess water in the body. It is in-fact considered as one of the superfoods.
They have been used in culinary world for many years and lo behold especially in France. It contains less calories, about 45 per 100g serving and is considered a reason why French women are so slender. Classic French preparations are the Dandelion Salad (with bacon, vinegar and garlic croutons), Dandelion/Burdock alcoholic drink and Dandelion Coffee (dried Dandelion roots).
The greens are nutty and pleasingly bitter in taste. Use the leaves to flavor sandwiches and soups, and of course make the pesto! Try using it instead of spinach in recipes for an interesting twist. They are available in the farmers market especially in spring and fall. Young dandelion leaves are less bitter than mature dandelion leaves. Don’t pick leaves that are wilted, or have yellow or brown spots on them.
Note: Use this recipe as a guideline and have fun with it. Use Parmesan or Fontina or any other cheese instead of Gruyere. We used Parmesan for the competition.
Dandelion Greens Pesto
What do I need? – Ingredients
- 1/4 Cup extra-virgin olive oil + more as needed
- 2 Cups Dandelion Greens
- 3 Big cloves of garlic (Use more if you want it more garlicky)
- 1/4 Cup Almonds
- 2 Tablespoon fresh Lime or Lemon juice
- 1/2 Cup Grated Gruyere Cheese
- 2 Tablespoons Black Peppercorns (Adjust this amount according to taste)
Equipment Needed – Blender or Food Processor
Now lets make this! – Procedure
- Wash the Dandelion Greens throughly. Remove the stalk and use only the leaves. Blanch the leaves in a pot of boiling water for a couple of minutes. Immediately plunge them in an ice bath (a bowl of cold water with ice). This will arrest cooking and keep the green color. Squeeze out the excess water and set aside.
- On a sheet tray, line the almonds in a single layer and bake them in the oven at 350F for 3 minutes till they are hot to touch. This will help when you grind them in the blender/food processor.
- In a food processor or blender, pulse/coarsely grind together all the ingredients (greens, garlic, lime/lemon juice, almonds, black peppercorns and salt) except the cheese. Drizzle in olive oil in a steady stream and blend until smooth.
- Transfer the pesto to a bowl or bottle. If you are using it immediately, mix in the cheese. If you are freezing, then transfer to an airtight container and top with more olive oil. It can be frozen up to 6 months. But I tell you, it doesn’t last that long in my house.
- Now the last step – enjoy delicious, wickedly different Dandelion Pesto!
Serving Suggestion: Dandelion Pesto Linguini with roasted almonds and cilantro flowers.