April 6, 2012

the dandelion in the spring

Blogger's Note: This is the second in my three-week Reading in the Kitchen series covering foods from The Hunger Games. Read Peeta's Bread recipe here. Read Mellark Bakery's Apple and Goat Cheese Tart recipe here.

Spoiler alert: This post contains actual quotes and analysis of Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games and Mockingjay. If you just want the recipe without spoiling the story, scroll to the bottom.

The dandelion is one of my favorite symbols from The Hunger Games trilogy. In book one, Katniss says she saw a dandelion the day after Peeta gave her the bread that saved her family from starvation. Seeing that dandelion, free from the haze of absolute hunger for the first time in weeks, Katniss realizes she can provide for her family by hunting and gathering. She and her sister gather a bucket of dandelions that night, and eat a salad for dinner.

Katniss mentions the dandelions again in the next two books, including one of my favorite passages from Mockingjay (book three):
What I need is the dandelion in the spring. The bright yellow that means rebirth instead of destruction. The promise that life can go on, no matter how bad our losses. That it can be good again.
That passage gives me chills thinking about the depth of what that means. For most of us, a dandelion is an annoying weed we pluck from our yards and gardens. But for Katniss, the dandelion is a lifelong reminder that even after the winters in our lives, spring returns bringing a possibility of better. (Or at least that's my interpretation.) Powerful stuff.

These books have been on my mind since reading them three weeks ago, and I instantly thought of that passage when I saw the first dandelion appear in my backyard last month. Even before I considered how annoyed my broomie would be about the future infestation in our yard, I thought about the references to the book. And then I wondered what they tasted like. Throughout the stories, it does seem like Katniss and her family eat quite a few dandelions. I wanted to know.

After gaining my broomie's assurance that he has not put down any fertilizer or chemicals on the lawn this year, I gave the yard and weeds a few more days to flourish before I plucked and ate any. In the meantime, I researched methods for preparation and facts. A few notes of interest:
  • One cup of dandelion greens contains fewer than 25 calories.
  • The same cup contains 112 percent of your daily Vitamin A, 32 percent of your daily Vitamin C and more calcium than a cup of cottage cheese. They also contain antioxidants that help your vision. (Thanks eHow for those nutrient tips.)
  • Dandelions are frequently used in colon and liver cleanses as part of a natural detox.
  • You can actually buy them in select grocery stores.
Who would've guessed that the very same weeds my dad used to swear about when I was a girl could have that much nutritional value?

I found several recipes for dandelion salads, which contained hard boiled eggs, bacon and other tasty components. But I decided against using any of those. Aside from the fact that I'm still avoiding most meat, it just didn't feel right to make a dandelion salad from this book with all of those fixings.

Here's the recipe I came up with:
  • 1 cup of fresh, clean dandelion greens (straight from my backyard)
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon roasted sunflower seed hearts
  • 1 tablespoon raisins
  • salt and pepper to taste
Now, I used these final three ingredients, because you absolutely have to have something with these greens. Being the somewhat brave and always curious person I am, I ate one of the leaves after washing, and I wore a sour expression on my face the next few minutes. Dandelions are quite bitter (even more so than collard greens). The texture is also quite tough.

This is where the vinegar helps. Not only does it add some flavor, in a low calorie way, but if you toss the leaves in this and let it sit for several minutes, the leaves wilt slightly, making them much easier to eat. Plus, out of all possible dressings, vinegar was the one that seemed most likely to be in the Everdeen pantry at some point in time.

After letting the leaves wilt a little, I added the sunflower seeds and raisins. Both add good texture and flavor to any salad, and are a lower calorie option than croutons or cheese. (Hey, I care about these things. If I'm eating a salad, I want to get nutrition points for it.) Again, it also seemed more likely to me that at some point or another, berries, seeds or nuts might make it into one of their salads, compared to other options.

To finish, I threw in a dash of salt and pepper for flavor and dug in. Although I'm not entirely in love with dandelions, and doubt they will be replace spinach or romaine any time soon, it wasn't terrible. Not only did this salad come in at less than 100 calories, but it all the nutrients above, plus fiber, and was quite filling. When served with a Boca burger (or a rabbit or squirrel, if you like) and a slice of Peeta's Bread from last week's post, it made a nice, balanced meal that left me full.

I am intrigued to try eating them cooked differently. I know I said they aren't super delicious, but neither is kale on its own, and I eat it all the time. This was a good lesson for me that food doesn't have to come on a train from a farm in California, we have food available at our finger tips.

If you're a curious type, like me, I encourage you to give this a try. Just make sure you pick dandelions that have not been treated with any chemicals to avoid getting sick.

Thanks for reading. I'll be back next week with one more recipe inspired by The Hunger Games, and then I'll try to move on with my life and try foods from other books. Have a great weekend!

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  1. We eat dandelion salads here in the south. Mature leaves are indeed very bitter; young ones are much less so. If the flower is already on the plant, it's really past its prime already.
    Love your curiosity in the kitchen; thanks for sharing these posts!

    1. That's good to know about the young ones. I guess I was too scared to pick something that I didn't know was a dandelion - I need to become more of an expert.

  2. If you like goat cheese, that might be an interesting addition. Prim had a goat, and it's conceivable that they might have had goat cheese. And croutons from leftover bread. Mm. Getting hungry.

    1. That's a great idea. I actually also made apple and goat cheese tarts as part of this series, because Mr. Mellark bought some of Prim's goat cheese regularly to make them. They were delicious, but I'm sure it would be good in this, too. Thanks for reading.