I've mentioned Demetris in Astoria, Queens before. We ate there this past spring and the meal has stayed with me as I prepare dishes here in Colorado. The food was so simple, incredibly fresh, with great flavors coaxed out of minimal ingredients. It is a very loud and casual kind of a place. You definitely want to go there with people who enjoy good conversation and good food in a slightly chaotic atmosphere. There were only two cooks in the kitchen on that busy Saturday night and the waiters made their own drinks and boned and filleted all of the fish for their tables in the service areas. You have to order quickly because seafood specials recited upon arrival may be gone by the time you're ready to order. Our meal that evening was accompanied by stewed dandelion greens. These were a revelation, slowly cooked in generous amounts of olive oil. The olive oil brought out an inherent sweetness in the greens, balancing their characteristic bitter edge. The slow cooking resulted in a meltingly soft texture that managed to be chewy and silky all at once.
To me dandelion greens are a harbinger of spring. They are at their best at the beginning of the season when they are small and tender. They are associated with health tonics because, among other things, dandelions affect the kidneys as a natural diuretic. Improved kidney function is associated with overall feelings of general well being and good health. Dandelions are also considered to be beneficial for people with chronic hepatitis, gall stones and diabetes, as well as good source of vitamins and minerals including calcium and iron. It's sap is used as a holistic treatment for various skin ailments and a daily cup of dandelion tea is recommended for healthy gastro-intestinal functions. This is all pretty amazing for a weed that grows on most people's lawns.
Here in my kitchen I'm lucky enough to have baby dandelion greens from the Chef's Garden. I took a large stainless steel rondeau and set it over a low flame. I added enough good olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Then I scattered a handful of leaves and a sprinkle of salt into the pan. As I slowly stirred the greens they began to wilt. I added another handful of leaves and another light dusting of salt. I continued this process, occasionally adding an additional slug of olive oil until all of the greens were incorporated. Because I used baby greens and a gentle heat, they retained a verdant emerald hue when they were finished. The greens were soft and sweet, fragrant from the olive oil with slightly bitter finish. These will be on the menu tonight as part of the meat course, paired with glazed salted cashews and venison from Broken Arrow Ranch.