I have a small stack of brand new cookbooks next to my corner in the living room (you know, big comfy chair, and all my ‘control’ devices close at hand). These were given to me at Christmas time by my L.A. daughter, who always seems to know what my interests of the moment are – I think Sandee leaks them! It’s probably time I began breaking into them to give me some new kitchen inspiration, and to feed my addiction for vicarious travel adventure. I’ve known for a long time that it’s far more fun to plan a travel adventure than it is to actually do it. And it’s a lot cheaper too.
So most of my travel these days is the vicarious kind – and I really love a good food-travel book. And Melissa has included a beauty among the Christmas books she gave – ‘Burma, Rivers of Flavor’, by Naomi Druguid. And what makes it even more exciting is that none of us know much about Burma – do we! For years, it’s been almost like Burma didn’t exist any longer – that it just went away. And what makes that even more meaningful is that even when Burma was wide open and accessible, I doubt there was a city with more mystery and intrigue than Rangoon – even its name would send chills of excitement through you – at least me. Yeah, I know the names Burma and Rangoon have been officially changed, but I’m betting the rest of the world continues to use them for a long time.
And I have never seen a Burmese restaurant anywhere, have you? So, the food of Burma is just as much a mystery as the country itself – it is with this level of excitement and anticipation that I bring you my discoveries. And the first will surprise you a bit, I’m sure – and require a little background.
Burma is a land of heat – some things grow well, and some, not at all. Potatoes are one of those in-between kind of plants – they don’t take a lot of cold, but they don’t like a lot of heat either. In Burma, there is a short period of time each year of two months or so when potatoes will grow well, and then the rains come to put an end to them. The Burmese enjoy their potatoes with a spicy edge, and a touch of bitterness too, which they traditionally get from hibiscus flowers – Druguid suggests a good alternative for those of us without access to exotic tropical flowers is a bitter green, like sorrel or even dandelion greens.
Currently, in my part of the world, it is dandelion season. Some people hate dandelions – you can always tell who they are because their lawns are awash in dandelion flowers each April – those of us who would love to have a sea of dandelions in our lawn of course do not. Oh, I have plenty of non-grass kinds of things growing out there, but sadly, not a lot of dandelions.
When I went looking for dandelions, I first had to spend a good deal of time researching just what a dandelion looked like, because unfortunately there are many look-alikes out there – fortunately, none are toxic, but then, few are as good tasting either. I’m betting that you think you know exactly what a dandelion looks like; and I’d bet you really don’t know!
Here’s some help.
The identification problem arises from the fact that a dandelion grows from the top of taproot in a rosette form – in our minds, we associate this unique plant form with a dandelion, but actually there are maybe hundreds of other plants which grow the exact same way – and look very similar. But there’s an easy way to ID a dandelion from all other look-alikes, because a dandelion sends out leaves with sharp points on them (from whence its French name has evolved – Lion’s Tooth), and the ends of those points always point back toward the ground, at least the bottom set of teeth do. No other of the look-alikes do this! So, now you know.
Let’s celebrate spring (at least in our part of the world) by making use of nature’s gifts – get out and pick some of those prime dandelion greens before they start flowering, for then their leaves turn even more bitter. But, and it’s a big BUT, that doesn’t mean they become inedible – those like me even enjoy the increased bitterness, especially if you are cooking them (as in this recipe) since the cooking tones down the bitterness.
So here’s a Burmese, Naomi Druguid adaption of a springtime variation of a very basic side dish – and for many of you, a good introduction to a springtime veggie you should have been eating all along.
Spiced Burmese New Potatoes and Dandelion Greens
About 2 lbs. small new potatoes, or small fingerling potatoes (in Burma, since the potato growing season is short, smaller potatoes are more common – it’s OK to simply cut up the new potatoes – but do use new potatoes)
About a cup and a half (1 ½) of chopped dandelion greens (use the larger leaves for this, and reserve the smaller leaves for salad use)
3 – 4 tbs shallot oil (* see below)
1 green or red fresh hot pepper, seeded and minced (or if your hot peppers are not really hot, leave the seeds in there)
1 tsp salt, or to taste
Place the potatoes in a pan with just enough water to cover them. Bring to a boil, and lower the heat to medium low for a low boil. Continue until the potatoes are cooked through but still firm. Drain, place back in the pan – cover and set aside for 10 minutes.
Heat the oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add the minced peppers, and as soon as they begin to sizzle, add the chopped dandelion greens – stir as the greens wilt and everything gets mixed together – add the potatoes and mix all well while the potatoes get well heated – add salt to taste and remove to a serving bowl. Sprinkle some crisped shallots over all and serve.
* All over Southeast Asia, the use of flavor infused oils is common – most often, they are very hot, with a chile base. But in this case, Druguid is suggesting one where the oil is infused with shallots – so not only do you get a more flavorful oil with which to cook, but a byproduct of crispy shallot – which can add another layer of flavor to this dish.
In her book, Druguid provides a process for making a cup of shallot oil, and a corresponding large amount of crisped shallots – but for our purposes here, I’ll give you a trimmed down recipe for a smaller amount appropriate for this dish.
Take 2 or 3 shallots and trim and skin them – cut down the middle and slice into thin slices, and place into a skillet in which you’ve heated ¼ cup of neutral oil (peanut or grape seed is good) over medium-high heat – stir – as soon as you see some of the shallot slices getting dark edges, lower the heat to medium, or lower – stir the shallots often while they are cooking – during their first 5 minutes of cooking, you want them to begin to take on a light golden color – continue occasional stirring, but do not raise the heat. Continue cooking another 2 or 3 minutes, as the shallots become more golden – be careful here, as they will quickly turn from golden to dark brown (burned!) if not watched. As soon as you sense them getting nicely brown, remove them from the heat. Strain the oil from the shallots, and place the shallots on paper toweling to dry and crisp for a few minutes. The oil is now ready to use – you should have just enough for this dish, and maybe more than enough crispy shallots too.
I know what you’re thinking – and I agree – maybe this was not the best Burmese representative recipe in Druguid’s book, but I wanted to do the dandelion thing too – you know how we bloggers are – I promise I’ll go back and dig out a few more down the road. But it was a really good recipe for expanding our horizons a bit. When was the last time you made a potato side dish that included bitter greens? If like me, maybe never – but it was simply delicious, and I’ll surely use it again. I hope you’ll give it a try, even if you adapt it a little – yeah, it’s OK.
Hi Doc, I have 7 acres of dandelions. I have been meaning to try them for ages. I love the idea of foraging for food. What do you usually do with them?
Well, to be perfectly honest, in my own yard there are less than I’d like there to be, so my supply is limited – I could go down to one of the local parks, but then Sandee baulks on eating food that the dogs have peed on. So, mostly I’ve used them sparingly in salads, where they give a nice bitter note to an often boring mix of greens. But again, once they send up their flowers, they become more bitter and San doesn’t like that – I like the bitter greens. Then they’d be good to chop up and saute with olive oil and garlic – I’m sure the Italians would serve that over pasta, just like they do with other bitter greens like the chicories and raabs.
I have begun replanting the roots I dug this year into my garden (the part that gets too much shade for most other crops) – I know they’ll do very well there.
Hi Doc, are they considered a weed in the States or are they grown? Dandelions are definitely a weed here, they are everywhere is Spring. I have included a small quote from the site edibleweeds.com.au. I thought you might be interested.
The ‘pin-up girl’ of the edible weed world – and justifiably so since is it arguably the most nutritious of them all!
A unique combination of vitamins, minerals, trace elements and other biologically active substances in a ratio optimal for the human body.
The US Dept of Agriculture Bulletin ranked dandelion in the top 4 green vegetables in overall nutritional value.
Dandelion blossoms are high in Vitamins A and C.
Dandelion is a great blood builder and purifier.
Dandelion is rich in fibre, potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and the B vitamins, thiamine and riboflavin, and a good source of protein!”
Oh yes – they are surely considered a weed over here. But the reason they are so hated is that they are so effective at spreading their seed – especially in manicured lawns. Those of us who aren’t trying to win lawn awards seem not to have any problems with them – or perhaps the dandelions sense we’re going to eat them for dinner and they avoid our yards. Ha!
I didn’t know that about the leaves and their pointy bits! How useful. I do know their current French name is pissenlit as the leaves have diuretic qualities. I have tried them blanched in salads and they are delightfully bitter.Young grouond elder makes a nice addition to a salad of ‘horta’ too. Hoping to hear more about Burmese cooking as you work your way through your ‘travels’ !
Humm … had to look ground elder up – not familiar with that one. I’m sure if I look I’ll find it. My most aggressive garden weed is henbit aka, dead nettle – not really a bad one since it’s easy to pull when young – have no idea if its edible though – probably not, since the deer don’t bother with it!
I’ll be damned! I just googled henbit/dead nettle, and it’s edible too. I apparently have a very smart garden, and very dumb deer! I think I’ll go out and get some assorted salad stuff for tonight’s dinner – Ta da!
I don’t like dandelions in salad–too bitter for me but I loved them in the potato dish. Cooking them, especially in shallot oil, reduces the bitterness and adds a lovely taste to the potatoes. Good combination. Another winner, dear.
We’ll see if you still like them as summer moves in, and the dandelions get more bitter. I promise I’ll do more dishes with them quickly sauteed – we’ll see then – I hope you do!
What did you think of the henbit? My problem with dandelions is not the bitter but the particular dandelion-y bitter that isn’t appealing to me, especially with my lovely problem of wild arugula periennially present in my garden. But I am so happy you used them in the Burmese recipe. I just bought that cookbook and it is pretty amazing.
Only recently did I realize henbit was edible, so I haven’t eaten it yet – but I will. The most fertile part of my garden has hidden under its grass ground-cover millions of lamb’s quarter seed, which only emerge as I dig it up each year – and it gives me great pleasure to pick those ‘weeds’ knowing I’m getting a bonus crop out of that section each year. Another section of my yard is a too shady area where I used to garden – it’s now home to an almost complete ground cover of naturalized corn salad (mache) – I pick it all winter long – Nice!
I haven’t tried anything else out of the Burma cookbook yet, but I sure will – I only did that potato dish because I wanted to kill two birds with this post – I’ll get to the better stuff soon.
Can’t believe I forgot to add this link to your great recipe to my recent post on foraging from one’s garden. Will add posthaste! 🙂
Pingback: eats weeds and leaves: edible spring pruning | Culinaria Eugenius
Hi drfugawe, i was wondering if you could tell me the name of the plant in the third photo (the one with the single true dandelion leaf). I came across a similar looking plant and can’t seem to remember what species it is… Thanks!
I’d love to help you get the name, but I can’t – I do remember using “Goggle Images” a lot back then – so just put dandelion look-a-likes into G I, and see what comes up?