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DIY Kitchen: dandelion pesto

April 21, 2012

I’m glad we’ve already established that life is a little different around here. Y’know, roadkill, elk pee-camo, our musical aptitudes ranging from mixed tapes (Rachel’s Driving Mix, 1990!) to my off-tune warblings of melancholy Cat Stevens songs. Also, I’m so glad I have this uncensored space in which to be weirdly myself, in addition to the bi-weekly newspaper column I write, where my editor advised me early on to chill out on the mentioning of children’s secretions. Even the editor of the magazine I write for, whom I adore, regularly reminds me to consider the greater population, including Republicans.

And it’s not that eating dandelions is so radical, I mean, every Eastern European grandma is on her hands and knees right now stuffing jagged leaves into a pouch, her grandmother’s warning about scurvy still ringing in her ears. But somehow most of America still treats these sunny little plants as enemies, dumping poison on them every year like a small yellow-headed flower is something to be scared of. Blah blah blah soapbox. (Col recently made a timeline of his life, and at age 2 he noted: “Rosie born, blah blah blah”).

Dandelion Pesto

Mouthwatering – the roasted nuts are the brown parts

Wait – do we need to talk about eating dandelions first? About how dandelion leaves are a power food? About how they have as much calcium as milk, cup for cup, or how they’re riddled with potassium, iron, Vitamins A, B and C? About how they taste mild and foresty with just a hint of bitterness – a bitterness that your liver would encourage you to eat and which disappears under a salad dressing or in…pesto? Okay, now that you’re all totally on board with the idea of eating dandelions: 1) pick ’em young, they get more bitter after flowering; look in shady spots where they’re less likely to have flowered. 2) watch out for areas that may have been sprayed with chemicals. 3) if you live in a super hip city like my mom, you can probably find them at your local farmers market or natural food store.

Also, I won first prize at the 2003 Dandelion Festival Cook Off with this recipe:

3 cups young dandelion leaves

1 cup roasted nuts (roast in oven/toaster oven at 250F for 20 minutes. I used almonds, walnuts or pecans would be good too)

1/2 cup olive oil

juice of 1 fat lemon

2 cloves garlic


Blend everything until smooth.

I’ve never measured dandelions before. I like the conventionality of it. Maybe my editors would too. Also, I’m in love with this food processor that I borrowed from my friend Natalie. What a miracle machine! Someday I might like to experience the miracle of a dishwasher.

Dandelion leaves in the field. These were picked in the forest under shady oaks and ponderosas pines. 

And at home: tender young things

When I spooned some dandelion pesto into the kids’ mouths, Col said “hmm, well, it’s pretty good, but it’s not my first choice of things to eat.” How diplomatic! I thought. Until I remembered these are the very words we’ve been repeatedly giving the children as an alternate to “yuck.” But, I’m learning that my children are an ocean of changing tides; someday, I predict, Col will be serving a dandelion salad to his kids, like his dad and grandfather before him.

Tell me about your differentness.

39 Comments leave one →
  1. stephinie permalink
    April 23, 2012 7:24 am

    i love dandelion greens. non to be had here…. so i’ve got an idea for a stand in. arugula! i’ve got tons of arugula. and my kids are not so diplomatic on their thoughts. “mom, those leaves are awful.” but the teenage girl likes it, so there is a bit of hope! i think you all ready know that i am weirdly myself too, which is why i wish you were my neighbor. we could swap pesto for beer. it would be so cool.

  2. April 23, 2012 7:28 am

    My kids love to pick dandelions so much, I think I might actually convince them to eat something like this. Also, you can call anything “pesto” and I’m on board … old-tire pesto, cotton pesto, gum-wrapper pesto … Toss some wlanuts in and blend it up!

    PS: You won a Dandelion Festival Cook-Off? You never cease to surprise and delight me.

  3. April 23, 2012 8:34 am

    this is getting spooky…the psychic business…max made hortopita this weekend…he saw the dandelions and was reading a travel magazine with the recipe and then poof (as in puff pastry) he did it. so, of course, col will be wooing the women, especially his mama, with his culinary prowess. i don’t know many 12 year old chicks that will be grooving on hortopita, but one can hope! right this moment, i am drinking my chai, and will soon go gather more dandy’s for some pesto. you are keeping me busy!

    AND!!! I found bottled ginger juice, full strenghth! Hell yeah.

    hope your week is lovely.

    ps. i could rent max to you as a ‘peer mentor’…..for real cheap. he actually does babysit, if you need a ‘house boy’ while you run errands.

  4. April 23, 2012 9:01 am

    They say (who the heck are “they” anyway) that kids taste buds are way more sensitive than adults, and that a child needs to be exposed to a new food at least 10 times before they can really make a definitive decision about like/not like. I pretty much decided after one taste as a kid, or just turned my nose up and never tasted it at all. I would eat corn, potatoes, canned green beans and iceberg lettuce with thousand island dressing (homemade from ketchup, mayo and pickle relish) as a kid. That was my entire veggie repertoire. No onions (raw or cooked), no other lettuce, no bell peppers, nothing hot, no broccoli, no sweet potatoes…you get the idea. Took me a LONG time to develop a veggie palate. There is hope. Blah blah blah. Grin.

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      April 23, 2012 9:53 am

      Hmmm, ketchup, mayo and pickle relish? Is that all thousand island dressing is? I am so swoony for Reuben sandwiches (with elk meat of course) and somehow the dressing seemed like the limiting factor. And speaking of ketchup, last night we made elk burgers and fries and I asked the kids if they wanted ketchup with their fries. “Um, is it *your* ketchup, Mama?” Rose asked. “It is!” “Okay. I don’t want any.” Heathens.

      • April 23, 2012 11:02 am

        My daughter made the same inquiry about granola bars — “are they YOUR granola bars, mama? Oh, no thanks.” Ouch.

      • Anonymous permalink
        April 23, 2012 2:08 pm

        Elliot says the same thing about my cottage cheese! It’s crushing.

        • Jennifer permalink
          April 23, 2012 2:11 pm

          I can’t wait to make this pesto. I have a million dandelions in my yard. Yeah, no chemicals!! I’ve always wondered how you made this, it’s always soooo yummy.

  5. Emmanuelle permalink
    April 23, 2012 9:58 am

    I agree with Stephinie : Argugula pesto is fabulous, as an alternative – and this alternative healthy bitter/ tasty leaf is easy to find in stores (at least in Montreal) as “organic baby arugula”, prewashed and all.

    I also suprise my friends in the summer with a cold soup made of corn salad mixed with well-cooked organic beetroots, a pear or two (tender ripe), and grated ginger. Sprinkle each serving with sliced almonds (slightly browned in a non-stick pan). Yum ! And good food for your liver, too : o )

    • Emmanuelle permalink
      April 23, 2012 10:03 am

      Oh my, I should have re-read my comment before posting it… please forget the repetition and mistakes : o )

    • Emmanuelle permalink
      April 23, 2012 10:09 am

      PS – Corn salad is also called Lamb’s lettuce, it is very mild tasting.

      • Rachel Turiel permalink*
        April 23, 2012 10:38 am

        ahhh…wonder if that is what we call “lamb’s quarters.”

        • Emmanuelle permalink
          April 23, 2012 2:28 pm

          Quoting Wikipedia : Corn salad (Valerianella locusta (Linnaeus) or Valerianella olitoria (Moench) – It is also called Lewiston cornsalad, lamb’s lettuce, fetticus, field salad, mâche, feldsalat, nut lettuce and rapunzel.

          I guess you can replace it with dandelions :o)

          • Rachel Turiel permalink*
            April 24, 2012 9:48 am

            ah ha! I recognize these from Eliot Coleman’s books about growing winter greens.

  6. April 23, 2012 11:03 am

    You’ve inspired me. Dandelions are out in full force in these parts and I adore it, yet I still forget sometimes that I like to eat it too!

  7. April 23, 2012 11:19 am

    oh this recipe is such perfect timing for me! i’m starting a cleanse today (don’t worry, i still get to eat LOTS of yummy food) and i’m supposed to up my intake of bitter greens. i’ll make dandy pesto soon!

    you already know my differentness, but today fern and i are going to pick nettles from a (clean) tree well to make our second batch of nettle pesto….we use cashews, garlic, lemon zest, olive oil. xoxo

  8. April 23, 2012 11:35 am

    I have chicory growing in my greens patch and people stop to ask me if I’m actually cultivating dandelions. Yes I am.

  9. April 23, 2012 11:59 am

    Yo I ate my first dandelion greens this morning, before reading this post. You’ve normalized it for me, over time, so when I peered in my fridge this morning and didn’t find spinach/chard/kale or anything else green other than broccoli or fennel, neither of which sounded good in a pineapple banana smoothie, I resorted to my patio cracks (shadier there) for a handful of iron, form of… dandelion greens! And no fridge necessary! I recently divested myself (it was a joint effort really, between my ex and myself :)) of most kitchen appliances other than an immersible blender, which I love for smoothies, soups or other small pureeing jobs. 20 bucks new, though lots of people have ones they aren’t using and want to give you, I would imagine.

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      April 23, 2012 12:02 pm

      Patio crack dandelions! (That is my new punk band name)

      Also, can an immersion blender blend nuts?

      • Anonymous permalink
        April 23, 2012 1:16 pm

        BTW, Williams Sonoma just came out with beekeeping stuff, cheesemaking stuff, raised bed kits and other Rachel related paraphernalia. I’m waiting now for dandelion windowboxes, with little glass atriums for the top and heating pads below if you want to start your dandelions in February.

  10. Michele permalink
    April 23, 2012 1:29 pm

    So what I’m hearing you say is if I go into my yard and see the beginning of a dandelion instead of digging it up it is safe for me to eat?

    I love Kale pesto, yum yum.

    Made the chai tea and really enjoy it! I’m freezing it in ice cube trays so do not have the pressure of finishing in 3 weeks.

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      April 24, 2012 9:47 am

      Michele, so glad you’re enjoying the chai!

      And yes, safe to eat, though remember: the younger the better. Once they flower, the bitterness (and good-for-youness) increases)

  11. Anonymous permalink
    April 23, 2012 2:08 pm

    And if they flower before you get to those greens, you can always do this recipe with the flowers
    Light and sweet and delicious cookies.

  12. April 23, 2012 2:36 pm

    We love eating dandelions! A garden/playgroup friend has made us dandelion pesto a few times, but I’ve never made it myself. I’m going to pin your recipe. My girls love to gather dandelion leaves for our salads (and flowers for our decor, because we’re fancy like that).

  13. permalink
    April 23, 2012 11:46 pm

    ok. so any tips on the condition of my greens? I remember being a kid growing up around many Slovenian elders who made wine and fresh salads, but I seem to remember being told that they need to be picked very young? I am making this for my pizza. Yum

  14. Oceano's Mountain Mamma permalink
    April 24, 2012 6:48 am

    Thanks so much for your cooking tips!!! We’re living in Italy and have a huge assortment of dandelions in our community garden. Now we can use the whole plant and not just enjoy the sunny yellow of the petals or the seed skeleton begging to be blown like bubbles! <3 Pesto is my favorite, I've recently tried walnut pesto and tomato pesto from Sicily. YUM.

  15. April 24, 2012 11:36 am

    we’ve used the greens in salad before seeing as we have a penchant for cultivating them in our backyard *ahem* i haven’t tried pesto though…and i love pesto. unfortunately we are nut free due to allergy (i moan about this daily because i LOVE nuts) but i usually find some extra parm or romano helps things out in a traditional basil based pesto. will have to give it a test run with the dandelions. thanks for the idea!

  16. April 24, 2012 11:43 am

    yum! going to try this.

  17. April 24, 2012 4:47 pm

    I thought you were going to say, “If you live in a hip city like my mom does, you could probably just pick them in the park.” I was hoping to just head over to Cedar Rose for our harvest.

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      April 25, 2012 9:43 am

      True, Cedar Rose should be perfect, unless you’re my mom, in which case $3.00 for an organic bunch at the farmers market is perfect (while I snicker just *a little*).

      Funnily, one of Rose’s favorite boys is named Cedar and I guess if they ever get married, there’s a perfect park for them. Alternately, they could be homeless people there.

  18. April 24, 2012 4:50 pm

    Oh! and my differentness. I’m the opposite of a germaphobe. My friends laugh about it now, but I think I still terrify people at the park when I don’t even give a thought to letting Jonah eat a raisin he finds on the pavement.

  19. April 25, 2012 9:13 am

    Coffee grinder is not a bad mini-food processor, at least as far as nuts go. My family seems to find my love of nutritional yeast startling, but they are philistines sometimes. Have to agree with the comment about kids’ sensitive taste buds – their sense of smell must be the same. I hate to admit that I used to find the gagging antics entertaining, until they actually turned to vomit one day. Even I am not entertained by vomit, though I have been known to chuckle over a grocery store tantrum, especially the ones triggered by despair at not getting to ride on the conveyor belt.

  20. April 25, 2012 2:30 pm

    one of my differentness-es is that i like to carry on conversations with my husband *with an accent*, for extended periods of time. like…all day? deep southern is our favorite, but i can nail ze german speek rheally vell.
    i also (thanks to you) eat random plants off the ground, much to my baby daddy’s despair and i enjoy making loud sighs/groans, even in public, to “release the energy.” except i mean that without quotations.
    next spring i am going on a serious mission to sexify dandelions around these parts. xo

  21. April 30, 2012 11:45 pm

    So happy to see you cheering our friend the Dandelion!! When we lived in Montana, we had a yard of bonafide un-sprayed (for at least 10 years) dandelions. We ate the greens, we made dandelion wine, dandelion jelly and a friend of mine made marinated dandelion crowns (very similar to marinated artichoke hearts). Yum! Here we have just a tiny little patch and this is probably the first year they haven’t been sprayed. We could seriously impress the neighbors by expanding our dandy patch, eh? Thanks for the pesto recipe, I will try it if I can collect enough leaves : )

  22. May 4, 2012 10:05 am

    I am *so* making this! Yay! xo


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