Dandelions, Part Deux: Pancakes and a Salad

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I scoured the produce section of our trusty local market this week hoping it wasn’t true. Just the week before, I had spotted something that lifted my heart. In a cardboard box, tucked in between a case of green tomatillos and a basket of cactus leaves, was a sight I rarely see outside of a garden patch: sweet little green bundles of purslane leaves. Purslane! I immediately knew it would be the focus of my next post. Purslane, a common garden plant (and an edible succulent variety) that many mistake for a throw-away weed, is a wonderfully useful herb that relieves heat signs in the Liver and Large Intestine channels. For many suffering through the heat signs of itchy, sneezy spring allergies, I thought it would be just the thing to feature. I already had my current posting ready, so I smiled at the bundles, told them I would be back, and moved on.

This week, I made my way back to the market with a singular focus. Honing in on the leafy bundles as my star ingredient, I rounded the back corner of the produce section ready to take my pick of the beauties, when to my horror, I realized that the box wasn’t there! It was just the green tomatillos and the cactus leaves sitting innocently next to each other, as if the purslane bundles never existed. I scanned the section a couple of times in the faint hope that the staff had just been doing a little produce rearranging. Nope. Not there at all. A staffer reassured me that the purslane would probably make an appearance again, but that I shouldn’t hold my breath. Disappointed, I meandered around the store wondering what I should make in its stead.

That’s when I noticed the fresh bundles of dandelion greens being touted for .99 cents a bundle. I know, I know, I’ve already featured a dandelion recipe in the short life of this blog, but I shrugged. Just as abundant as the dandelion itself are the recipes to feature it in. This week, I thought I would take a spin off an old classic. The flaky, crispy Chinese scallion pancake is a favorite in this household and it’s often a staple whenever the husband goes on extra long runs or bike rides and needs a little boost while on his treks. I’ll lightly fry up a pancake or two from a small stockpile in the freezer, then slice through them horizontally and fill them up with a little bit of meat, cheese or greens to make a sandwich. Wrapped up in aluminum foil (and stored in the back pocket of his bike shirt), they make a satisfying filler for that cavernous, gnawing feeling of hunger in the belly that comes from a strenuous workout. I stared at the bundles and made my decision. For my next batch of pancakes, instead of scallions, I’d use dandelions. Perfect!

While I was at it, I thought I’d cobble together a salad with the abundance of dandelions leaves I would have left over. Wilted in a bit of bacon fat with a generous dose of lemon juice and lemon zest, this salad is both a little bit decadent and a whole lot of satisfying. Like the dandelion, lemons cleanse the liver and harmonizes the stomach, aiding digestion. It cuts grease, cleanses the kidneys and urinary tract, and generates fluids. With an addition of golden raisins for a touch of sweetness, this salad works as a nice bitter-sweet-tart digestif to complement the flaky, doughy pancakes.

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This classic scallion pancake recipe doesn’t need much, in way of ingredients. There’s no yeast to rise in the dough; instead, with just all-purpose flour, salt and water, it’s the technique that yields the flaky, tender layers.

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Once you’ve poured in the water, use a fork or pastry cutter to break up the dough into pea-sized pieces. You’ll be adding boiling hot water first. Once the dough has cooled a bit, add a little bit of ice water in and start kneading.

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Knead the dough with your hands (or a stand mixer) until the dough starts shaping together smoothly. The texture should be soft but not terribly sticky. I suffered a running mishap with my hands this week, so the husband is dutifully being the hand model and chief dough kneader here.

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Once you have your ball of dough, set it in an oiled bowl and let it rest for an hour.

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Take this down time to finely dice up thick-cut strips of bacon. (Regular-cut bacon strips are fine too.) Fry them up and set them aside.

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Meanwhile, you can also wash the dandelion leaves and finely chop them. Since they’ll be going into the pancakes, the finer the chop, the better. I decided to keep the same chop size for the dandelion salad and really liked this finer dice for the way the leaves distributed themselves evenly through the salad.

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Once the hour is up, put the dough on a clean, lightly floured surface, or on parchment paper as I’ve done. Once you’ve divided the dough into equal-sized portions, roll out each piece as thinly as you can. The thiner the dough, the flakier it will be.

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Spread a little bit of oil, lard, or butter on the rolled out dough. Lard especially, will help create a flakier, tender dough.

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Sprinkle the chopped dandelion leaves and homemade bacon bits over the dough. Be generous but also be aware that you will be rolling this up!

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Roll it up as you would a cigar or sushi roll.

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Pinching the ends closed, coil the tube into a snail-like shape.

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Using your rolling pin or hands, flatten the dough, then roll out. It’s up to you how thin or thick you’d like your pancakes. Thinner dough yields a crispier pancake, while a thicker dough yields a chewier one. They’re both delicious in my opinion.

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Don’t worry if a little bit of dandelion or bacon peeks out. Simply press them back into the dough. Once you’re done, they’re ready to be fried or stored away in the freezer.

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With the salad, they make the perfect light lunch.

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My take-away from the day? It’s not a bad consolation prize when life denies you purslane but hands you dandelions and lemons.  DSC_0276

Scallion Dandelion Pancakes

Makes eight 5-6 inch pancakes
Adapted from this Momofuku scallion pancake recipe

Ingredients
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 cup boiling water
1/4 cup ice water
3 tablespoons lard, oil or another fat substitute
1 cup fresh dandelion greens, chopped finely
3-4 strips thick-cut bacon, diced into squares
oil for frying

  1. Sift the all-purpose flour and salt into a large mixing bowl. Pour in the boiling water and stir with a fork until the water is absorbed into the flour and the dough breaks into pea-sized pieces. Allow the dough to cool for 5-7 minutes, then add the ice water. Knead with your hands or a stand mixer until the dough is smooth and easily forms into a ball. It should be soft but not too sticky.
  2. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rest for an hour.
  3. Take the dough out and place it on a lightly floured surface. Divide it into 8 equal-sized pieces.
  4. With a rolling pin, roll out one of the pieces as thinly as possible. It’s a matter of preference: a thinner dough yields more layers while a thicker dough yields a denser pancake.
  5. Spread or brush on a thin coat of lard, oil or butter onto the pancake. Then sprinkle on the chopped dandelion greens and bacon pieces.
  6. Roll the dough up in a tubular shape, like you would a cigar roll. Then coil the tube into itself, in a snail-like shape, pinching the end against the coil.
  7. Flatten the coil with the rolling pin or your hands. Press and roll out until you have a circular pancake shape.Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough. The texture of the pancake is up to you. Roll the dough more thinly if you want a crispier pancake. Roll it thicker if you prefer a chewier pancake. It’s okay if bits of dandelion and bacon poke out, simply press them back into the dough.
  8. At this point, you can freeze the pancakes. Place squares of cut parchment paper between each pancake and stack them. Then wrap them securely in plastic wrap and freeze for up to 3 months.
  9. To fry, coat a frying pan (preferably cast iron) with oil. You’ll need just enough oil to coat the pan, but not enough to drown the pancakes. The oil is ready when it’s shimmering and hot. Fry the pancake on both sides until crispy and golden brown, about 4 minutes on each side.
  10. You can serve the pancakes whole, cut into wedges or sliced through horizontally and stuffed with your favorite fillings. Enjoy!

Dandelion Salad with Bacon and Golden Raisins

Makes four servings

Ingredients
2 cups dandelion greens, washed and finely chopped
3-4 strips thick cut bacon, diced into squares
Peel from one lemon
Juice from one lemon
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
Handful of golden raisins

  1. Fry up the diced bacon until crisp, then remove from the pan, saving the drippings.
  2. In the same frying pan with the drippings, put in the dandelion greens and toss quickly until the leaves are wilted and coated.
  3. Finely chop up the lemon peel or, alternatively, use a zester.
  4. In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, lemon juice, and salt and pepper.
  5. In a bowl, toss the wilted dandelion greens with the lemon olive oil dressing.
  6. Add the bacon bits, lemon zest and golden raisins.
  7. Toss and serve.
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