I’ve been visiting my Mom in Connecticut. See, we’re enjoying the first crop of asparagus and writing a cookbook together. Yes, that’s right. We woke up one morning and this view came out of nowhere. What do you see when you look at this photo? A field of flowers, dandelions, perhaps? A mowed lawn in dire need of weeding? My Mom, well she sees food. On this particular morning she looked out over the dandelions, their bright yellow heads sprouting up through the freshly cut lawn and said, “Let’s make some dal.” This is my first spring outside of New York and I am just adjusting to pollen, let alone a garden and a lawn. Making a meal of this lawn… a dal at that, sounded like the best food idea I’d heard all year. So the following morning she headed out with a gardening fork and cut that first bed of dandelions and piled them into a basket. They were fresh, young, a bit sweet and wonderfully bitter – so far away from that summer bitterness that makes you gag, and nothing like the matured and metallic farmed variety you find in the store.
She made molahootal, just as we’ve done a thousand times. After I’d filled my belly with the most delicious and bittersweet dandelion molahootal – moong cooked in ghee with toasted spices and then blended with pureed dandelion and toasted coconut – I made a mental note that wild dandelions are yummy. I’ve found in the last couple of years that the things you grow, while exponentially more flavorful, brilliant, and nutritive than the things you can buy, are never as potent as the things you can find! If you can find some dandelions out in the wild, maybe your lawn or a nearby hill, free of chemicals, I urge you to make this dal. It’s potent and delicious.
Then I came upon this post in the Times by Robert Wright. In his own search for a natural, beautiful lawn the author stopped weeding and awaited the scorn of his neighbors (seemingly from the vantage point of his kitchen window). His hope was that instead of his neighbors thinking of him as a “negative externality,” an unfriendly neighbor who is carelessly lowering the value of their property, maybe they would come to enjoy nature, naturally, without the roundup ready and the chemicals. I couldn’t agree more: let it go, let it grow, let it run wild.
I’m not a lawn person. I see a plot of grass and wonder what you could grow atop it or why it’s cut so short. A few in my family are even plotting to convince my Mom to buy a goat and some chickens and plant some corn out in that dandelion field. But I am a woodsy person; I love the wilderness and I have a weak spot for foraging.
When you look at the etymology of the front “lawn” and back “yard,” you can almost imagine what they used to look like before suburban developers came in and mowed everything over. The lawn, this “clear, open space” was once reminiscent of a frolicking meadow or a grassy respite in a wooded area. And the back yard or “back garden” was and still is where we can do as we please – let kids roam around, put clothing out to dry, leave toys strewn around, plant tomatoes and lettuces and herbs, and refuse to weed and mow as we like.
This lawn you see is actually at the side of my parent’s house, but it’s the only one they have. Being located up a steep, long driveway, out of the ear- and eye- shot of neighborly peeping toms, you could say my parents could do as they please. And they do – inch by inch my mother has been converting more of the terraced garden into edible greenery. Being here this spring, with a bowl of dandelion dal and everything bursting in flower and green, I can appreciate this lawn for what it is: a meadow beside a house in the midst of the woods.
So look out at your lawn or your yard, your courtyard or your sidewalk, whatever patch of dirt or grass you look at, and ask yourself if it’s beautiful and makes you feel peaceful. If not, what part of nature are you keeping out or troubling yourself with trying to tame? What part can you let in? Seems to be if there’s going to be work done on the land, surely you should profit with, say, a tomato or dandelion or two.
Or as commenter Frank Gabbo said in response to Wright’s article:
“Follow the Italian way. Eat the dandelion ‘weeds.’ And ancient Chinese medicine believes the root is good for the kidney and bladder. Some say the prostate, too.
Lamb’s quarters are delicious in salads.
Grass, in contrast, doesn’t taste very good. Unless you are a ruminating mammal. Dogs eat it to induce vomiting.”
1 cup moong dal
1/3 cup fresh (or frozen) grated coconut
1/3 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoon ghee or butter
16 oz freshly cut dandelion, washed repeatedly in cold water until clean and with flowers and roots trimmed
1 1/4 teaspoon rasam or sambar powder
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/4 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 1/4 teaspoon urad dal, dry roasted
1 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
Rinse the dal and cover it by 1“ with cold water.
Heat a small pan on medium low. When the pan is hot add the oil and turmeric. Cook for 20 seconds and remove from the heat. Add this to the dal.
Bring the dal to a boil in a medium-bottom sauce pan, skim off the foam and discard. Turn the heat down, put a lid on cocked and simmer for 20 minutes until the dal is soft and losing shape.
While the dal cooks heat the ghee (or butter) in a large frying pan over medium low. Add the coconut and sauté until lightly browned. Add the dandelion and sauté for 5 minutes. Sprinkle the rasam (or sambar) powder and the salt on the dandelion, put a lid on the pan, and continue to sauté for 3 more minutes until the dandelion is completely wilted. Remove from the heat. Add the dandelion to the dal.
Using a blender or hand held, puree the dandelion/dal mixture until smooth.
Heat a frying pan on medium low again. Add the sunflower oil and the urad dal and black mustard seeds. Cook until the urad turns medium brown and the mustard seeds pop. Add to the pureed molahootal.
Bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and add the lemon juice.
Serve with brown basmati rice.