Spring is the time that certain leafy greens are at their best, especially dandelion greens—those wild weeds that have zero abandon when it comes to flavor and multiplying!

As the Oldways African Heritage & Health Program Manager I have grown my greens knowledge over the past three years, learning and tasting as I go.  One of the distinguishing characteristics of African cuisine is the use of greens in soups, stews, and side dishes. Leafy greens stand out so much for their nutrition and cultural ties that we designated them as their very own food group on the African Heritage Diet Pyramid.

Greens have a wide range of flavors, from spicy to bitter to mild. Afro-Caribbean and South American cooking favor milder tasting greens that grow in the tropics, like spinach and callalou. Bolder collards, turnip greens, and dandelion greens continue to be popular choices in African American cooking today. Many experts say that greens are one of the most powerful foods we can eat to improve our health. They are very low in calories and packed very high with nutrients.

Lucky for us, our local market has had dandelion greens every week since March. My husband and I have been adding them to everything from soups and sandwiches to salads and even our homemade tacos. Our favorite ways to prepare dandelion greens are to either lightly boil them (blanched for about 4-5 minutes), which cuts down on their bitterness, or to sauté them with lots of garlic and onions.

While we both love the saltier, more delicate greens like chard, spinach and beet greens served with pasta, we’ve found that dandelion greens, so bold and peppery, go perfectly alongside potatoes. Adding a healthy fat to greens, like olive oil or a handful of pumpkin seeds, not only matches beautifully with their flavor, but also helps us absorb the many fat-soluble vitamins packed into greens.

Flash-Cooked Dandelion Greens
Quick, easy, and as loudly flavorful as punk rock, this recipe makes for a killer side dish in less than 5 minutes.  The secrets to its flavor are (1) to slightly caramelize the onions and green pepper, and (2) to withhold the garlic until the second half of cooking, leaving it somewhat fresh, to get the greens really garlicky. We recommend serving these pungent dandelions alongside a mound of mashed potatoes, layered in a sandwich, or rolled up in a taco.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped
½ green bell pepper, chopped
1 large bunch dandelion greens, washed and roughly chopped
½  lemon, juiced
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon sea salt  
Optional: 2 tablespoons toasted pumpkin seeds

In a medium skillet or pan, heat the olive oil and sauté the onion and green pepper over medium heat, to get their juices cooking – about 3 minutes.

Add the dandelions and half of the lemon juice. Cover and cook on medium heat for about 3 minutes to tenderize the greens.

Uncover and add the rest of the lemon juice, garlic, and sea salt. Mix all the ingredients well and turn the heat up to medium-high. Let the greens cook until you start to smell the caramelizing happen – a sweet, charred aroma – about 2-3 minutes. Stir once. Let it cook for another minute or so.

Serve hot, sprinkled with toasted pumpkin seeds (whole or ground in a coffee grinder) if you have them on hand.

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