We shook things up this past weekend. Sunday morning was cold but bright and seemed like the perfect morning to head east to the Marché Bastille. I had not been in nearly two years when market-hopping in search of kale was a weekly activity. Nowadays, just getting to the market can sometimes prove a daunting task in between naps and preparing baby food.
I was desperately seeking dandelion greens or pissenlit as they are called in French. Like kale was a few years ago, dandelions aren’t easy to come by, yet more and more, or perhaps I’m just more aware, I have seen photos on instagram of fellow marketers finding the spiky, bitter greens.
I wasn’t always into dandelion greens. In fact, my friend Anna, who just launched what will be a fantastic quarterly food journal, wrote to me, “I heard you are all about dandelion greens. Is this true?” I wouldn’t say I am all about them but I sure have been thinking about them a lot. I can remember my mom throwing a few of the pungent leaves into a mid-week dinner vegetable sauté and grimacing at the first realization that there as not just kale or collards in my mouth. I couldn’t get out of my head that I was basically eating weeds from in between sidewalk cracks. But they sure are good for you.
Yet now, in some of the consulting work I do my for my uncle’s farm, I see pictures of these beauties, which only confirms that the availability of these greens and in this quality is not happening here.
Since I was trekking to a far away market with an 11-month old, I needed to be pretty sure that the trip was going to be a success. But it is the season, the greens being one of the earliest signs of spring, and with a tip from a friend, the Marché Bastille was where the pissenlit action was happening.
Emerging from the métro station, we entered the belly of the beast, maneuvering our way around market caddies, families and young people who had pulled themselves out of bed. I’d forgotten how big this market is. Heading away from the Place de Bastille towards the other end of the market, I kept my eyes open as we walked by each stand selling winter citrus, topinambor, rutabaga and other late winter roots. And when we reached the stand that I was told would have them, I was pleased to find an independent producer, Monsieur Martinet and above him, hanging was the black sign with the word Pissenlit written out in white chalk.
Cultivated by him in Ile-de-France, he told me “The wild ones, they taste of the sea,” when I asked whether or not they were sauvage. “And now, is the best time to buy them,” he added, encouraging me to get my fill before they get too large, scraggly or flower. Just as I know I stood out to Hermione four years ago when I was gleeful over her mustard greens, I’m sure I appeared the same when I told the man that I made a special trip from the 17th for his dandelions.
I bought four handfuls and we ate them that evening. They’re a weird looking green with a stubby pistol in the middle and rough root and they were tedious to clean. The yield was a small bowl of wilted leaves. The taste was delicious but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little disappointed. As I pulled a few of the brown leaves and dirt off the thin, finger length leaves, I kept asking myself why can’t anyone grow some freaking robust dandelions like I know I can find at Whole Foods?
But if Paris has taught me anything, it’s that food shouldn’t always be easy. We shouldn’t be able to order takeout at 2am all the time and maybe it’s not the end of the world that I can’t find rice vinegar everywhere. I remember when I first realized that my first few farmers were not going to grow kale year-round. Now I can’t imagine kale not being seasonal. Of course it’s seasonal. Our food choices should be more thought out and made with more intention. And made with better intention. Even though the dandelions weren’t what I was envisioning, they gave me so much more than a nice topping to our cacio i pepe pasta.
They gave me a reason to go to another part of town. They gave us a reason to interact with new vendors and people. They gave Grady a chance to take a few first steps in her new gold shoes. Finding, purchasing and cooking with the greens was an actual moment, whereas before I would have thrown them into a grocery cart without thinking twice. And it was nice to really think about my food.
Dandelion Greens Sauté
There is no need to get fancy with these greens. Keep it simple and garlicky.
2 tablespoon olive oil
5 or 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 bunch, a few handfuls dandelions greens
1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes
salt and pepper to taste
Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large pan.
Add the garlic and stir to keep from burning for 3-4 minutes.
Add the dandelion greens and continue to stir.
Add the red chili flakes and stir more for another 4-5 minutes until the greens begin to wilt.
Serve with rice, pasta, lentils or as a side to fish or meat.