Dandelion Blossom Veggie Burgers

I’ve been a small time forager for years, but last spring when I found myself newly unemployed and trying to navigate a pandemic and a recession at the same time, I doubled down on this relaxing, money-saving, health-building hobby. I taught myself how to forage for dandelions, and began gathering the flowers and greens to incorporate into my meals. I found, to my delight, that the humble dandelion is one of my favorite foods. The blossoms are especially delicious, reminding me somewhat of an artichoke drizzled with honey. The yellow fluff is traditionally separated from the green base and used to flavor wines, meads, and confections. Whole flower heads can also be individually battered and fried. I tried these preparations last spring, and found them delightful. But I really wanted a way to incorporate the dandelion blossom as a substantial part of a main dish. Enter the Dandelion Blossom Veggie Burger.

Basket of Dandelion Blossoms and Leaves

Important! If you intend to forage at all, it’s imperative that you put in your own research time and educate yourself thoroughly about safe foraging practices, poisonous plants, indicators of soil contamination, lookalike plants, food allergies, and more. Believe it or not, there are numerous other plants that resemble the common dandelion. Invest the time to learn how to collect and consume wild foods safely. There are lots of great foraging resources available through your local library, your county extension office, and local foraging clubs. Learn first, then gather.

Once you have learned how to gather the dandelions safely, you’ll need to collect about 2 cups (packed) of the fresh whole blossoms (yellow fluff and green base in tact). It’s ideal to pick them soon after they open fully, which seems to be around 11:00am. You may not be free at 11:00am, and the perfect is the enemy of the good. Pick them when you can get them. If you like, you can also gather some of the leaves at the same time. A delicious and slightly bitter pesto can be made from the leaves, which makes a wonderful sauce for the burgers. (Use a recipe for regular basil pesto, but substitute dandelion leaves for the basil).

After picking, the blossoms need to be processed as soon as possible, but at least within a few hours. They do not keep well when raw. I like to soak the flowers for 5-10 minutes in a large bowl of cold water to clean them, agitating them a few times with my hands. They can be dirty, and they can have little ants in them. Don’t bring them inside until you’re ready to wash them, or the little hitchhikers might escape into your kitchen. After soaking, I gently wring them out with my hands to remove most of the excess water. Now they are ready to use!

Washing Dandelion Flowers

To make the veggie burgers, you will need:

  • 2 packed cups freshly picked, rinsed, and wrung out dandelion blossoms.
  • 6 whole dandelion blossoms, reserved for decoration
  • 1 cup cooked & drained black beans (or any leftover cooked beans you might have on hand)
  • 1 cup cooked brown rice (or any other cooked whole grain you may have leftover in your fridge)
  • 1/2 cup organic cereal, such as fruit juice corn flakes
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1/3 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 heaping teaspoon each of turmeric, thyme, sage, basil, garlic powder. Or, about the same amount of any flavoring herbs and spices you enjoy and have on hand.
  • 1/2 tsp each of sea salt and pepper
  • 2 tsp extra virgin olive oil, plus more for oiling the baking sheet
  • 1 large egg, or two smaller ones

Before You Begin: Oil a baking sheet with extra virgin olive oil, or the cooking oil of your choice. Set your oven to preheat to 350˚.

Step 1: Roughly chop the 2 cups of dandelion blossoms, or use your food processor to “pulse” them a few times.

Step 2: Add all the ingredients except for the six reserved decoration blossoms to a large mixing bowl. With clean hands, massage the ingredients together until they are well mixed, sticky, and cohesive. You could probably use a spoon for this part, but your hands are going to get dirty in the next step anyway. Why wash an extra spoon?

Step 3: When you feel the ingredients are well mixed, scoop up a handful of the mixture and try to form it into a ball. If it’s solid and sticky enough to hold its shape, then you are ready to form the patties. If it’s too dry to hold together, add more egg. If too wet to hold its shape or it will not stick together, add more flour.

Step 4: Shape the mixture into patties of the size and shape you prefer. I like to form a ball first, and then squish it down until it resembles a hockey puck. I usually get about five patties from this recipe, but you may find you have four or six based on how generously you pack your measuring cup, and how large you portion your patties. Place each patty onto the greased baking sheet when it’s complete.

Step 5: Press one of the reserved dandelion blossoms sunny-side-up on top of each patty for decoration. After you’ve finished this, I suggest flipping the patty over so that the dandelion blossom is on the bottom. You’ll flip the patties again midway through the baking cycle, and I think the blossoms come out more beautifully if they finish their baking time sunny-side-up.

Step 6: When the oven is fully pre-heated, place the baking sheet in the oven. Set a timer for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, take the baking sheet out of the oven and use a spatula to flip each patty over. Use a fork to smooth out any decorative blossoms that might have gotten folded or moved so that they lay beautifully atop each patty. Place the baking sheet back in the oven and bake for 20 additional minutes.

Dandelion Veggie Burgers Ready To Bake

Cool slightly and serve on a bun with your favorite toppings. Some of my favorites include pesto, hummus, and a fresh tomato slice. Or serve atop a bed of spring greens and drizzle with a good balsamic vinaigrette. Extras can be stored short-term in the fridge, or individually frozen for later enjoyment.

Dandelion Veggie Burgers Ready To Eat

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The American Persimmon

It’s persimmon season! Diospyros virginiana, the American persimmon, is one of my personal favorite fruits. The American persimmon tree is native to a large part of the United States, including south and central Indiana. It is related to the commercially available Asian Persimmons (Diospyros kaki), and to several other trees commercially grown for fruit and timber. This is a low-maintenance tree that is easy to grow organically, and the fruit is an important food source for local wildlife (and for local fruit-loving people). I have planted a few dozen American persimmon trees here at the farm, but while I wait for them to mature and become fruitful, I forage fallen ripe persimmons every September from an established tree in town. I leave all the smooshed ones for wildlife to enjoy, and only take the whole fruits with their skins in tact. Share and share alike.

I grew up enjoying American persimmons in pureed form, usually baked into a regional delicacy called persimmon pudding (though the texture of this dish is more like a brownie than pudding). I have also enjoyed this fruit made into persimmon ice cream and persimmon cake, and both are delicious. Recipes usually call for added sugar in these desserts, but personally I don’t think they need any sugar at all. The fruit is sweet enough all by itself! I can imagine countless other uses for this fruit, if only I could ever get enough of them to try out all the ideas. When fully ripe, American persimmon is very sweet with a soft grainy texture similar to fresh dates. But instead of a date flavor, it has a delicious persimmon flavor. The fruits are round, sized between one and two inches diameter, with one or more seeds in the middle. The seeds are large, and resemble pumpkin seeds. The unripe fruits are very astringent, so you definitely want to make sure you only harvest fully ripe persimmon fruit. It is commonly said that you must wait until after a frost to harvest these fruits, but that is only a myth. The easiest way to harvest is to wait for the ripe fruits to fall naturally to the ground, and simply pick them up. If you own the land the tree is on, you can spread sheets of fabric underneath the tree to speed harvesting and keep the fruits clean.

Although I have grown up enjoying this fruit for as long as I can remember, the only fresh, whole American persimmons I have ever encountered are those I have gathered myself. This is a fruit meant to be eaten soon after harvest, and does not store well. American persimmons are usually processed and sold as frozen pulp, or as baked goods. I do enjoy eating them fresh, when I can get them. This year, I decided to dry some of the persimmons I gathered so that I can enjoy them all winter. I washed them, split them in half with my fingers to remove the seeds, then laid out all the pieces of persimmon flesh onto dehydrator trays in a single layer. I dried them at 130 degrees for about 12 hours. Dehydrator time and temperatures need not be very precise, and if you typically dry tomatoes and other fruits in your oven or in the sun, I think a similar method would work as well for persimmons. The dried persimmons turned out chewy and sweet and wonderful. I have read that the seeds can be roasted and added to coffee, and that the leaves can be dried and used as tea. I have not tried these uses yet myself, but I did dry the seeds for future recipe experiments.

American Persimmon Fruit Prepared for Drying
American Persimmons de-seeded and ready for the dehydrator! A nice tray of lemon balm from the herb spiral awaits the dehydrator in the background. And that knife on the cutting board turned out to be totally unnecessary!
Dried American Persimmons
Finished dried persimmons and persimmon seeds.

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Seasonal Eats for Late Spring

I planted my earliest spring crops on May 2 this year. Many crops could have been planted much earlier than that date, if only their new raised beds had been completed earlier. Things being as they are, I harvested my first kale exactly one month later, on June 2, and it was the most delicious kale I’ve eaten since the last time I grew kale.

Russian Red Kale, freshly harvested

I harvest Kale in the “cut and come again” style, cutting off select bottom leaves from each plant and leaving the center stalk with young leaves untouched. This allows the plants to keep growing and producing new leaves for me to eat later, until the summer heat puts an end to it.

Radishes have just started to bulb up, and I’ve harvested a few small roots. Radish greens are abundant though, and since I didn’t space the radish seeds very carefully, I’ve harvested plenty of radish greens as a result of thinning out the plants. Many people don’t know that radish greens are edible, but they’re a nutritious and delicious pot herb (pot herb means that you cook them, opposed to eating them raw in a salad).

Lambsquarter plant

Since my garden is small this year, I’ve been rounding out my harvests with some choice edible weeds. Lambsquarters are abundant right now, and I tried them for the first time a couple weeks ago. They have become a favorite! I’ve made them into a dish similar to creole creamed spinach, and I’ve sauteed them with garlic and other greens. They’re similar to spinach in flavor and nutrition.

Dandelion greens, dandelion flowers, and violet greens are some other wild greens I’ve been adding to my harvests. Until this year, I did not realize how large violet leaves can grow. They’re delicious raw or cooked, and so are violet flowers.

Violet Greens
Violet greens that grew to giant proportions! Human hand shown for scale.

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Maple Vanilla Pumpkin Pie, With a Real Pumpkin

Maple Vanilla Pumpkin Pie

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!  Today, my family will sit down together to enjoy some heirloom recipes passed down from my grandmother, some of my mother’s exquisite culinary creations, and my contribution to our table, a Maple Vanilla Pumpkin Pie.  Most of the ingredients in this pie are available fresh right now in our part of the world, and one day soon I hope to grow these ingredients for a true farm-to-table pumpkin pie.  The fresh baked pumpkin and dark maple syrup combine to make this pie a truly unique, hearty, seasonal delight.  Try it for yourself!

Filling Ingredients (inspired by this recipe):

  • 1 pie pumpkin
  • 1 TB coconut oil
  • 2 cups fresh milk or 1 12 oz can evaporated milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup of the darkest maple syrup you can find.  None of that light amber stuff!
  • 1 heaping TB all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Crust Ingredients (inspired by this recipe):

  • 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 stick butter (4 oz), cold and cubed, plus more for greasing the pie plate
  • 1/4 c ice water

 

Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 400°F.
  2. Slice the pie pumpkin in half lengthwise (such that you cut around the stem).  Cut out and discard the stem piece.  Use a spoon to scrape out and discard all the seeds and stringy parts from the inside of the pumpkin.
  3. Grease a baking sheet with coconut oil.  Rub the rest of the coconut oil into the insides of the two pumpkin halves.
  4. Place the two pumpkin halves cut side down on the baking sheet.  Bake until you smell a delicious caramelized pumpkin scent.  This takes about 30 minutes, but it could take longer depending on the size of your pumpkin.  When done, the pumpkin skin should be bubbled and the flesh should be very soft and fork tender.  Cooking too long is better than not enough, but take care not to burn it.
  5. While pumpkin is baking, combine milk and maple syrup in a small pan.  Simmer over medium heat while stirring occasionally until reduced to 1 1/2 cups.  If using fresh milk, this will take more time than if using evaporated milk, but the end result will be similar.
  6. While the pumpkin is baking and the maple milk is simmering, make your crust.  See directions below!
  7. When your pumpkin has finished cooking, and has cooled enough to handle, scrape out the flesh and pack tightly into a 1.5 cup measure.  Set aside any extra pumpkin flesh for pumpkin soup, smoothies, or another pie.
  8. Reduce oven temperature to 350, to prepare it for the pie.
  9. Add pumpkin, maple milk mixture, flour, salt, vanilla, and cinnamon to a food processor or blender.  Puree until very smooth.
  10. In a mixing bowl, carefully beat eggs until thoroughly mixed, but try not to whip any air into them.
  11. Pour pumpkin mixture into eggs.  Mix thoroughly.
  12. Pour pumpkin mixture into the prepared pie crust.  Bake uncovered at 350°F for 70 minutes, or until firmly set.  You should be able to insert a toothpick into the middle of the pie, and see that it comes out clean.
  13. Cool, chill, and enjoy!

 

Pie Crust Directions:

 

  1. Pulse flour, salt, and butter in a food processor until blended.  If you don’t have a food processor, you can mash by hand with a fork.
  2. Slowly add the ice water while the food processor continues to run until a cohesive dough forms.  If mixing by hand, try not to knead this with your hands if possible.  It’s important to keep the dough cold, to create a flaky texture in the finished crust.  If you do have to knead it with your hands, then cover the dough and stash it in the freezer for 10 minutes before rolling.
  3. Liberally flour a pastry board, and roll your dough lightly until coated in flour.  Smash the dough down with your hands until it is about 1.5″ thick.
  4. Working from the center of your dough towards the edge, roll the dough flat with a rolling pin.  Bring the rolling pin back to the center of the dough, and this time roll the dough flat in the opposite direction.  Lift the dough, flip it over, and rotate it 1/4 turn.  Repeat until dough is round, about 1/4″ thick and sized to line your pie pan.
  5. Grease your pie pan with butter or coconut oil
  6. Lay your pie crust over the pie pan, and press it gently into place.  Using a sharp knife, trim away any pieces of dough that drape more than 1″ over the edge of the pie pan.  Roll the rest of the excess dough back towards the pie plate and crimp into place for a classic pie crust edge.  Cover and store in the refrigerator if you are not going to bake right away.

 

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A Fruity Harvest

There are a lot of reasons why I grow my own food, but the biggest reason is to eat it.  Here are some of my successes from the past year.

2 Violette de Bordeaux Figs, freshly picked from a potted fig tree.

These two figs ripened in late August.  I sliced them in half and ate them drizzled with cream.  Amazing!

2 Violette de Bordeaux Figs, freshly picked from a potted fig tree.

Giant Meyer Lemons shown in my hand, for scaleOn Christmas day, I ate the first ripe fruit from my Meyer Lemon tree.  I waited two long years to taste these lemons, but meanwhile I have been enjoying year-round greenery and fragrant blossoms.  This tree would be worth keeping even if it didn’t make fruits.  But it did make fruits, and I did eat them.  As for their fate, I first removed their zest using a vegetable peeler.  I packed the yellow strips into a small jar, and covered them with strong grain alcohol.  I hope to turn this into a tiny batch of Limoncello in a few months.  Next, I squeezed 1/2 cup of juice from the first lemon, and immediately drank it straight from the measuring cup in a joyous frenzy of excitement.  The other lemon was turned into delicious lemonade popsicles.

Two ripe Meyer Lemons hanging from an indoor citrus tree

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Sauerkraut with Cumin & Coriander

Comparisson shot of cabbage and sauerkraut color variation
(Left) A jar of finished sauerkraut. (Right) Fresh cabbage, just beginning to ferment

I first tried wild, unpasteurized sauerkraut at a farmers market in the Castro district of San Francisco.  A local artisan offered me a free sample, and  I was pretty sure I was going to hate it.  Almost completely convinced it would be terrible.  But I’m not one to turn down a new taste experience, so I agreed.  “I’m not so sure I’m going to like it,” I told the nice man holding the jar of kraut.  “That’s the best reason to try something new!” he said.  I was completely surprised by what I tasted.  It was tart, bright, crunchy, and scented with seeds of cumin and coriander.  It really didn’t taste anything like cabbage, or what you might think sour cabbage would taste like.  I bought the biggest jar they had, and devoured it in under a week.
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