Dandelion greens are simply the toothed leaves of the common plant which produce the ubiquitous yellow flower. The leaves sprout from a central hollow stem which may be green or red. Dandelion greens have a very distinct, assertive flavor, often tangy and bitter. The younger leaves with short stems are tender and mild, while larger leaves become fibrous and overtly bitter. Once the plants produce flowers, their strong flavor increases and the greens are past the point of optimal culinary value.
Dandelion greens may not be as versatile as lettuce or spinach, but they are not limited in their use and should be considered for both raw and cooked applications. The green's assertive nature can be balanced by sweet flavors and rich foods such as cheese and bacon. Dandelion greens work well in a salad mixes paired with pears, apples and stone fruits. They can be wilted or baked. They make a great gratin cooked with cheese and cream. Other complimentary pairings include citrus, sherry vinegar, tart dressings and creamy dressings, olive oil, shallots, fennel, white beans, tomatoes, chiles and garlic.