Detoxifying dandelions are the perfect January food. You can fry them and add them to a thick bowl of pulses, add them to a soup of green lentils and Jerusalem artichokes or eat them in a lemony salad with squid and giant garlicky sourdough crumbs. One of the best combinations of all is a bowl of bitter dandelion leaves dressed with vinegar and fatty bacon fried to a crisp. This is lucky for me as I have just been making my own dry cure streaky bacon - trying out some home curing recipes for my new book, The Modern Peasant.
My friend Fred got me some fantastic free range British Lop belly pork from Mary Holbrook's farm in Somerset. I cut the 1.5 kg piece into two big slabs and rubbed them with a salt, spice, sugar mix (fennel, coriander & juniper), draining off the liquid each day and adding more mix. Over about 4 or 5 days it cured the belly to perfection.
Weeds have been on my mind a lot lately. In November I under took a thrilling pilgrimage to Patience Gray's house in Apulia. Gray was evangelical about the energy giving properties of weeds. If you have a garden or access to one then you will probably have dandelions. Its probably one of the easiest form of foraging (and doubles as weeding too) but just avoid places where dogs get walked. The recent unseasonably warm weather means there's plenty of fresh growth.
Dandelions boost energy but they are a powerful detoxifier, always helpful at this time of year.
What better way to start 2012 then by detoxing in a way that is utterly pleasurable?
Dandelion and bacon salad with a hot vinegar dressing
This recipe is an adaptation of a Richard Olney recipe from the French Menu cookbook. At this time of year you are unlikely to find large, intact edible heads. You will find the outer leaves of dandelions are a bit tough but you can cut these off and use only the crunchy base of the leaves where the leaves meet the stump. It's probably best to cut as many as you can find and trim off only the choicest, juiciest bits. Later on in the year you could follow Mr Olney’s excellent advice and use the dandelion, whole, as a head. His other terrific piece of advice is to warm the salad bowl (ceramic need you ask) and serve the salad straight away so that the bacon fat doesn’t cool and harden.
Serves 2 or 4 as a side
2 big handfuls of dandelions cut at the base of the root (washed carefully and dried well in a tea towel or salad spinner)
3 or 4 rashers of good quality streaky bacon cut into thin strips (about 90g)
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
Fry the bacon in a cold pan over a low heat until the fat starts to run. Turn up the heat and fry until the bacon is crisp on all sides.
Warm the salad bowl by filling it with hot water and then drying it or by popping it in a low oven for a few minutes.
Put the dandelions in the warmed salad bowl and when the bacon is crisp tip the contents of the pan (bacon and fat) over the leaves. Quickly rinse the pan out with the vinegar (turn the heat up high). When the vinegar boils tip this too over the salad and serve immediately with plenty of good crusty bread.