Bacon boosts dandelion greens' bite


It is spring, and this man's fancy turns to dandelions. Dandelions are my most dependable crop. Unlike other crops, which require watering, attention and fertilizer, dandelions show up without any encouragement.

The other day I tried to harvest the greens, to turn the back yard into supper. My dandelion harvest is getting to be an annual event.

Last year after strolling around the back yard, I whipped up a salad of wilted dandelion greens and goat cheese, drizzled with walnut oil. It was tasty. This year, rather than depending on flavored oils and goat cheese to give the dandelions a boost, I turned to an old friend, bacon.

I am a big believer in the salvific powers of bacon. You can put a slice of bacon on almost anything -- from a tired-out piece of turkey to an ordinary grilled cheese sandwich -- and it gives the dish a pleasing burst. Bacon is a turbo-charger of flavor. I put bacon on cheeseburgers. I put bacon on baked oysters. And, of course, I live for the summer day when the homegrown tomatoes start rolling in, and long, sloppy lunches of bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches become a midday ritual.

Despite my devotion to these pieces of cooked pork, I had never thought of mixing them with dandelions. But recently, when I spotted a recipe in "Smith & Hawken Gardeners' Community Cookbook" for a salad made of dandelion greens and bacon, I decided to give it a try.

It seemed similar to a basic spinach and bacon salad. And there was a part of the recipe instructions that had me salivating. It read: "Pour the bacon grease over the greens."

Moreover, I figured this dish had the yin-yang approach to health. Bacon grease might not be good for me, but I was counting on the greens -- which are filled with Vitamin A, iron and calcium -- to balance things out in my innards. This view, that the good stuff washes away the bad stuff, has not been endorsed by the kind of health experts who publish articles in the New England Journal of Medicine. They tend to frown on pouring bacon grease on your salad. But then again, you don't find many health experts out in the fields picking dandelions. The other day when I was picking greens, I didn't see a single expert. But I did find a mess of dandelions

I was careful. I used only the tender tops of dandelions, and I picked only dandelions growing in my yard, which I knew had not been sprayed with any herbicides or insecticides. This, I would point out to health experts, is not something you have to worry about when you are picking out pieces of bacon.

Wilted Dandelion Salad

Serves 4

3 cups dandelion leaves or watercress sprigs, tender tops only, washed and spun dry

1 hard-cooked egg (optional)

salt and pepper to taste

3 slices bacon

1 tablespoons tart vinegar (such as raspberry)

1/2 to 1 tablespoon olive oil

Place the dandelion greens in a large salad bowl. If using egg, cut it coarsely, and add pieces to the greens. Lightly sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

Cut the bacon crosswise into

inch strips, and saute until crisp. Remove the pieces from the pan with a slotted spoon and add to the greens. Sprinkle on the vinegar and toss gently. While still warm, pour the bacon grease over the greens, add oil to taste, and toss gently again. Serve right away.

-- From "Smith & Hawken Gardeners' Community Cookbook" (Workman, 1999)

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