Dandelion Greens
Courtesy of Blanche Shaheen
Parboil dandelion greens, or other local alternatives, before sautéing with onions.

While health food enthusiasts sing the praises of kale, transforming the plant into smoothies and chips or adding the greens to casseroles and burgers, there is one medicinal plant that deserves at least as much attention: the dandelion green. As dandelion greens grow anywhere from front lawns to parking lots, many dismiss them as pesky weeds, but in fact they are medicinal herbs that are edible from the flowers to the leaves and roots.

Dandelions should not be seen as an invasive weed, but rather as a source of super-nutritious green vegetables. Dandelion greens are rich in vitamins A, C, E and K, as well as antioxidants. They make a great substitute for spinach, kale or Swiss chard, as they have an earthy, nutty and pleasingly bitter taste, similar to endive or radicchio. They are known to fight inflammation, aid in digestion and detoxify the body.

Dandelion leaves can be harvested any time of the year, but they are most tender and less bitter during the springtime. Currently you can find them at farmers’ markets, with their large leaves and firm pinkish stems.

If you are feeling adventurous and want to pick dandelion greens in the wild, they are one of the best beginner plants for those who are new to foraging. Dandelion greens grow all over the world and thrive in many different types of climates. They prefer to grow in the coolness of the shade but can still grow in hotter climates with direct sunlight. Ideally, dandelion flowers should be picked later in the morning when the blooms are completely open and dry – just make sure they are not doused with pesticides.

Unlike dandelion greens, dandelion flowers have a delicate and sweet flavor. They can be used to make dandelion tea or even jelly, and make a unique addition to sweet and savory baked goods. Dandelion roots are boiled as a tea to reduce water retention and improve liver function.

Balancing out the bitterness

To prepare the greens for eating, try the technique of parboiling. While some might think boiling vegetables leaches out the nutrition, in reality this cooking method can increase nutrient bioavailability for the dark, leafy greens that contain oxalates, organic compounds that reduce the body’s ability to absorb nutrients. Oxalates bind to minerals and block their absorption, preventing the body from absorbing them from the plant. Boiling the greens for just five to 10 minutes will remove a good amount of oxalates.

My grandmother, who is still alive at age 99, eats dandelion greens regularly, and intuitively knows how to prepare them for maximum nutrient absorption. One of her favorite preparations is the popular Lebanese/Palestinian dish of braised dandelion greens called Hindbeh. In this dish, the bitter greens, a rich source of iron, are parboiled, then paired with lemon juice, olive oil and aromatics such as onions and garlic. The vitamin C in the lemon juice assists with iron absorption while mellowing out the bitterness of the greens. The fat from the olive oil helps the body absorb vitamins A, C and K, so not only does this ingredient combination make bitter greens more palatable, but nutritionally more bioavailable. Sweet caramelized onions and garlic add depth of flavor to balance out any bitterness.

As a child, I didn’t think twice about eating these lemony greens, as they were buttery, sweet and tangy all at once. You can eat these greens plain or as a side dish. I preferred tucking them into pita bread with Middle Eastern spreads such as Labneh kefir cheese or hummus. You also can mix these greens with quinoa and feta cheese for a main course.

Los Altos resident Blanche Shaheen is a journalist, host of the YouTube cooking show “Feast in the Middle East” and cookbook author. Find more recipes and tutorials at youtube.com/user/blanchetv.

Hindbeh

• 1 pound dandelion greens, trimmed, washed and chopped (you can substitute other greens such as collard or mustard greens, kale, spinach or Swiss chard)

• 1 large onion, finely chopped

• 2-3 cloves of garlic, minced

• Salt and pepper to taste

• 2 teaspoons sumac

• 3 tablespoons fruity extra-virgin olive oil

• Juice of one large lemon

Remove any yellow leaves from dandelions. Wash well, then finely chop. Bring water to boil in pot, then add dandelion greens and boil over medium heat for approximately 10 minutes. Drain and rinse in cold water, then squeeze until dry.

Heat olive oil in large skillet, then add onions. Sauté for approximately 4 minutes, until translucent. Add garlic and sauté 1 minute longer. Add greens and sauté for approximately 2 minutes. Add lemon juice, sumac and salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle with more olive oil if desired, and serve warm or cold.