A Gift from the Field: Dandelion Salad

Bright little dandelion,
Downy, yellow face,
Peeping up among the grass,
With such gentle grace;
Minding not the April wind
Blowing rude and cold,
Brave little dandelion
With a heart of gold.

With their pert yellow faces peering from amid clusters of jagged green leaves, dandelions are a distinctive flower. “You cannot forget it if you would those golden kisses all over the cheeks of the meadow, queerly called dandelions,” Henry Ward Beecher wrote in his delightful discourse on flowers. Belonging to the family of Compositae, the second largest family of flowering plants, dandelions are related to burdock, ragweed and the royal chrysanthemum. They are hardy plants, seemingly impervious to assault by rodents and grubs. They are also deceptively intricate: Each dandelion bears the weight of over two-hundred tiny blossoms, which eventually turn to the gentle puffs of fuzzy seeds beloved by children and lovelorn romantics.


Dandelion leaves make for a number of toothsome meals. They grow in abundance in fields and lawns. Gather dandelions before the flowerbud has attained any great size and serve them in a salad, as they have a pleasant bitter flavor when raw. Germans serve them with warm bacon fat, but a splash of olive oil and lemon is more refreshing. Here is a 1908 recipe for dandelion salad, a supposedly potent springtime tonic for the blood.

Dandelion Salad

Rub a salad bowl with a clove of garlic slightly bruised. Cut a small leek into thin rings and place in the salad bowl. Add a dash of English mustard, salt, pepper and a tablespoon of French wine vinegar. Drop by drop, add some French [or olive] oil, up to 2 tablespoons. Mix together. Add a hard cooked egg, cut in slices. Last of all, add the dandelion leaves, about four cups. Toss with the other ingredients. Serve with a crusty white bread.

The Austerity Kitchen Challenge: Lentil and Brown Rice Salad

Jacob sold his birthright for a pot of lentils; and, during the rebellion of Absalom, Barzillai brought them as a gift to David. Aristophanes rejoiced in his newly found fame as it meant he would never again consume a lentil. “Now that I am rich,” he wrote, “I will no longer eat lentils.” During the nineteenth century the Welsh used lentils as cattle fodder and Romans served salted lentils at funeral banquets.

Lentils have indeed enjoyed a varied and wondrous history. They were a staple among the lower classes, who enjoyed them with everything from sauerkraut to richly pungent blood sausages. They could be stored many years and transported vast distances. Ranging in color from black to red to a brilliant marigold yellow, they are praised in a Hindu proverb as being the very staff of life.

For this month’s Austerity Kitchen Challenge, the Kitchen has developed a recipe for a lentil and brown rice salad, which can feed four or five people for under $5.00. The amount of rice and lentils can be easily varied to suit your tastes and needs, and you can prepare the mixture ahead of time and serve it over salad throughout the week. Serve lentil and brown rice salad with warm pita bread and hummus.

Lentil and Brown Rice Salad

6 cups cooked brown rice
2 cups cooked brown lentils
2 large onions, chopped into large pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
3-4 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons fresh cilantro (optional)
2-3 heads of romaine, chopped
3 tomatoes, chopped
2 cucumbers, sliced
1/2 red onion, chopped
chili powder
salt to taste

Brown the chopped onions in olive oil in a large pot. Add sugar, cilantro and cider vinegar. Stirring constantly, cook for three minutes over low heat. Turn off heat. Add cooked rice and lentils; mix thoroughly. Add salt to taste.

Toss romaine, tomatoes, cucumbers and red onion in a large salad bowl. Sprinkle chili powder over salad. Put salad on serving plates, top with lentil rice mixture and pour dressing over the entire salad.

Dressing:

2/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 clove crushed garlic (optional)

Mix olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, mustard salt and garlic together until blended. Pour over lentil and brown rice salad. Amounts can be varied to suit taste.

From the Omalos Plateau: Cretan Rusk Salad

The high and rugged mountains of Crete span its entire length, forming three different ranges. One of these ranges, known as Lefka Ori, is famous for the plateau of Omalos, a circular plain surrounded by green, rounded mountains. For centuries the Omalos plateau was a strategic base for Cretan revolutionaries fighting invading armies.

But the Omalos plateau was also the site of more peaceful activities.

With its remarkably fertile soil, which in the springtime is blanketed in grasses and wild herbs, the Omalos plateau was a favorite place for stockbreeding. Stockbreeders would drive herds of goats and sheep to Omalos’s verdant plains to feast on dittany and oregano, setting up camp for months at a time on the vast, empty stretches. There they lived lonely lives, with only a small camp fire and a few songs remembered from home to keep them company through the long nights on the plateau.

For provisions, the stockbreeders brought rusks–baked by their wives specially for the journey–that they ate with aromatic soups and salads of wild herbs and snails. The rusks were made of roughly milled barley. Their coarse, dry texture guaranteed they would survive the journey into the mountains intact and, once there, stay fresh for months.

Here’s a recipe for a salad of Cretan rusks and fresh vegetables, a traditional dish enjoyed in Crete. Should Cretan rusks not be available your area, substitute day-old bread.

Cretan Rusk Salad

3 tomatoes
3 green peppers
1/2 large red onion
3 cucumbers, peeled
1/2 cup whole Greek olives
3/4 cup olive oil
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tbsp lemon juice
3 Cretan rusks
salt and pepper
fresh oregano (can use dried)

Cut the tomatoes, peppers, onion and cucumbers into slices. Place in a large salad bowl. Mix olive oil, red wine vinegar and lemon juice. Break up Cretan rusks into small pieces. Sprinkle over salad with the olives. Pour dressing over salad and then season with oregano, salt and pepper.