Weed to know

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 April, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 April, 2010, 12:00am

It may be hard to believe the dandelion - the much-disdained weed that gives us a pretty yellow flower and seed-dispersing puffballs - produces a delicious bitter green vegetable.

Back in the days before global shipping meant a year-round variety of fresh vegetables, dandelions were eagerly anticipated because they were one of the first edible greens to grow each year and were said to cleanse the blood and kick-start a digestive system made sluggish after a winter diet of meat and starch.

Wild ones are at their best about now, because the greens are small and tender and the flavour is less astringent. If you pick wild dandelions, make sure they haven't been sprayed with pesticide and wash them thoroughly. It's a lot easier to buy commercially grown dandelions, which are sold in the produce section of some supermarkets - usually in bags of mixed greens, but sometimes on their own.

Dandelions are delicious raw, in salads, with a strong dressing that won't be overwhelmed by the greens' assertive flavour. I like a dressing made with grated onion and ginger mixed with soy sauce, rice-wine vinegar and a little sesame oil. Toss the dandelion greens with the dressing and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds. This is even better when served with an onsen egg (a 'hot spring' egg that's been cooked very slowly, so the white is barely coagulated and the yolk is still liquid).

Wilted dandelion salad is delicious with roast chicken. And it uses some of the rendered chicken fat that might otherwise go to waste. After roasting the chicken, transfer it to a cutting board and leave it to rest for about 10 minutes. In the meantime, put the roasting pan on the stove over a medium-low flame. Add a large quantity of dandelion greens and cook in the hot fat only until they wilt. Squeeze fresh lemon juice over the greens and serve.