Sometimes we forget what it means to be a wealthy nation. Our grandparents weren't so lucky; neither are many people in the countries our ancestors left behind. Even in the urban food desert, we still have the option of going to the grocery or to a quick-serve restaurant to get food, and I think part of the reason these places exist is that we've forgotten the creative ways our grandmothers got good food on the table.
One of my favorite examples of cooking in the face of poverty is the terrific vlog Great Depression Cooking, where great-grandmother Clara Cannucciari recounts her memories of growing up in 1930s Melrose Park, Illinois and takes to her kitchen to illustrate just how resourceful her family was. In the link above, she recounts exactly how to forage for dandelions, and other than to say I looked for a place where weeds were prolific and had clearly never been sprayed, I will leave you to with her instructions on how to collect the greens part of this meal - be sure before you attempt this recipe that you know how to identify a dandelion, though! (BTW, I hope when I'm 95 I'm still cooking, writing and tweeting!)
World War II, while a boon for business and jobs in America, hit the UK somewhat harder. Frugal people in Britian have begun to unearth collections of "war recipes," which often relied on sheer force of will to create food from carefully rationed staples. This recipe is a mashup of Ms. Cannucciari's salad and two ideas mentioned in this collection.
Dandelions are one of the few highly nutritious foods that can be found almost anywhere and had totally for free. They are so beloved in Greece that our local grocery stores sell beautiful cultivated dandelion greens just for that market, and some of our local restaurants offer a dandelion salad just like Clara's! They're making their way into modern fiction, as well: in the Hunger Games, dandelions are what mark the difference between starvation and success.
Enough with the philosophizing! On to the recipe!
I've already discussed how to make crepes here, so click the link and follow those directions and make a batch of crepes. For each can of sardines, you will need about 2-3 crepes and about 2-3 dandelion plants depending on how big and how plentiful the leaves are. If you make too many crepes, don't worry - freeze them for later use as directed in my recipe.
Vinegar (I like red wine vinegar, but use anything but white vinegar)
After making the crepes, it's a simple matter of assembly:
Wash your dandelion greens thoroughly in several changes of water.
Cut the root ends and the thick part of the stem off.
Dress them with a sprinkle of salt salt, then a heavy squirt of vinegar and a drizzle of olive oil (in that order; the vinegar will help distribute the salt) and toss thoroughly until all the leaves are coated. If the salad looks too good to pass up, you can just eat it now (and nobody will notice if a leaf or two is gone.)
Lay a crepe flat on your work surface and cover it thoroughly with a heavy layer of dandelion salad.
Add a thin stripe of sardine across the center (I had very fat sardines, so I cut them lengthwise in half.)
Roll up the crepe tightly as though you were making sushi, and set the seam side down.
Using a very sharp knife and a gentle sawing motion to cut through the stems, cut the roll in half and then make a diagonal slice to cut it into quarters.
Serve and enjoy!
PS. I love dandelion greens (they are a terrific substitute for arugula) but even then I was surprised at how well this recipe works: the bitterness of the greens cuts the richness of the sardine, the softness of the crepe - it's fabulous. If you're only going to make one recipe of mine, this is the one, let me tell you.)