PENINSULA KITCHEN: Desperately seeking dandelions

EVERY RECIPE HAS a story and this one begins at a popular Port Angeles pub.

I wasn’t in the mood for soup.

It was almost spring and I was tired of all things winter: scarves, hats, firewood and soup.

But I am constantly on the prowl for new cooking ideas and the soup of the day sounded intriguing: pesto lentil barley.

We ordered a cup to share for the table along with extra spoons.

It was by all measures a fabulous soup, but we all agreed it could use more green vegetables.

It was St. Patrick’s Day weekend and the waitress wore a sparkly green hat and Packers socks.

Perhaps swayed by the decorations, I was inspired to try my own version.

I went home, checked the pantry and found red lentils and buckwheat groats (close enough substitution for barley) and put them in a pot to soak overnight.

Soaking grains is an easy way to speed cooking (think lower energy use) and improve the digestability of most grains and legumes.

In the morning, I headed out into the cool sunshine with my weeding trowel and a colander and went looking for something green.

This is usually the best time for local weed eating.

Dandelion, miner’s lettuce, chickweed and bitter cress are revving their engines as the soil warms and the days lengthen.

We humans are in perfect synchrony with the season.

As spring unfurls our bodies are craving vitamin C, vitamin A and other phytonutrients contained within these often overlooked and sometimes despised superfoods.

Eating your weeds is fun and delicious.

The hardest part is cleaning off the grass and plant matter in the kitchen before you chop.

Dandelion greens should be harvested when the plants are small, just before they bloom.

Even when young they have a powerful bitter taste, so you might want to mix them with other milder greens such as kale or bok choy.

Sour balances bitter, so another way to tone down the bitter is to add a squeeze of lemon at the end of the recipe.

We had a long, cold winter and spring growth seems to be slow coming this year.

I know I’ll have a bumper crop of tasty weeds in my yard soon, but that morning I had to look closely to find enough of the tender dandelion greens to fill my bowl.

Wild greens and grains, inspired by but not at all similar to pesto soup

1 cup red lentils

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1 cup buckwheat groats

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

4 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced

½ cup walnuts (toasted is nice)

4 cups of cleaned and chopped mixed greens including dandelion, bittercress, mustard greens, kale, bok choy, parsley or whatever you have on hand.

Lemon juice

Salt and pepper to taste

Soak grains together overnight in 4 cups of water with 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar (adding vinegar or pickle juice to your soaking water helps to improve digestion by neutralizing naturally present phytic acids).

Rinse grains and allow to drain thoroughly.

In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter together until melted. Add minced garlic, chopped greens and toasted walnuts and allow to brown for 1-2 minutes.

Add the grains and saute on high heat for 5 minutes.

Add water or broth, cover with a tight-fitting lid and simmer for 10-15 minutes until grains are tender.

Stir once or twice while simmering to ensure grains are not scorching.

Remove from heat and allow to sit for 10 minutes.

Adjust seasonings and add a squeeze of lemon juice to finish.

________

Betsy Wharton is the proprietor of the Clallam Canning Co., a local purveyor of artisan pickles and other farm to jar goods. You can find her and her products at the Sprouting Hope Greenhouse at 826 E. First St. in Port Angeles. Or contact her at betsy@clallam canningcompany.com.

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