As a chef that loves to experiment with food, I have learned to cook with many different ingredients. Also being an avid gardener helps me to understand the foods we eat. Now, I have heard all of the misconceptions of one of the most well known weeds of all time, the dandelion. People simply love pulling these nasty, prolific weeds from their yards and tossing them into their compost pile. Little do they know, those weeds are edible. Almost all parts of the dandelion can be eaten with the exception of the stem. If you ever notice that after picking a well opened flower, the stem excretes a white sappy mess. Well that mess is what makes the bitterness.
First of all, always wash any part of the dandelion you eat to remove any white sap. The leaves are the most popular part of the dandelion. They can be eaten as fresh greens in a salad and dressed with a light viniagrette. Leaves can also be sauted in butter or oil, adding a little garlic or shallot and served as a hot vegetable. I personally love southern cooking, so you could even make the leaves into "greens and beans", or combine them with some bacon or even ham.
My favorite part of the dandelion is the flower head since it is so versatile. It can be used in many different ways. The petals can be eaten fresh in a salad. They add color, and a nice fresh look to a salad besides having an additional kick of vitamin C. The heads of the dandelion are also used to make dandelion wine. This in fact is an arduous task since you need a whole lot of fresh dandelion heads. I know, I've done it! I have also made a dandelion syrup that was delicious poured over a nice stack of hotcakes! My family's favorite dish that they simply loved, was my deep fried dandelion heads. I lightly batter the whole flower head, taking care to remove any green, then I deep fry them until they are golden. After draining them, I immediately season them with some kosher salt. This makes them the perfect little "pop in your mouth" appetizer.
Lastly, even the roots can be used to make a nice substitute for a cup of coffee. The roots must be washed really well to remove any dirt. Then you spread them out on a cookie sheet and roast them in a low 200 degree oven until they are dry. Remove them from the oven, let cool and grind up your roots. You can then use them just as you would any regular coffee beans. Always keep your ground up roots in a sealed container to keep them fresh.
Always remember, the best time to pick any fresh dandelions for their flower heads is mid morning after the morning dew has dissipated. This is when they are at their fullest. Leaves and roots can be picked at any time throughout the day. One thing I can't stress enough, make sure you know your source! If you are picking your own field of dandelions, and you don't use any pesticides, eat and enjoy! Just make sure you ask your neighbor if he or she uses pesticides before picking and gorging yourself on their weeds! My motto for life: Eat, live, laugh, and love!