Dandelions? Those are easy to find, right? Just give Charlotte a few weeks of nice weather and front yards will be dotted with pods of dandelions with round seed heads or bunches of bright yellow flowers. If that yard is maintained organically, then harvesting dandelion leaves is an option.
But my search for dandelions did not begin with the plant. It started years ago when I became preoccupied with finding the ingredient in the Lebanese dish henbeh. These greens pop up on the mezza table at Lebanese restaurants in the U.S. and on the home table in Lebanon. Yet Lebanese cookbooks translate henbeh as endive. Even chefs at Lebanese restaurants have told me it was endive. Online sources simply call it a type of green, "like spinach." But it isn't spinach.
As it turns out, henbeh is the jagged leaves of a dandelion. The traditional method of preparing henbeh is to boil the greens as you would turnip greens, but not as long as collards. Once boiled, they're sautéed in olive oil and chilled. The dish is served with crispy onions and a spritz of lemon. The taste of dandelions is a cross between turnip and mustard greens.
Dandelion leaves are eaten throughout the Middle East — especially around the Mediterranean, southern Europe, and Asia (notably China and Korea). Dandelions may have been first brought to the U.S. by colonists who consumed them for medicinal reasons. You can find dandelion greens at Super G Mart (7323 E. Independence Blvd.; 980-321-4048) for $1.29 a bunch.
Looking for a food you can't find? Or do you know of other food items unique to the Q.C.? Whether it's regional foods or international, talk to me: firstname.lastname@example.org or 704-522-8334, extension 136.