Fresh greens, vegetables and fruits are seasonal only
Fresh vegetables, fruits, roots, and leaves are hard to get your hands on in Alaska except for July to early September at the Farmers Market. Lettuce doesn’t grow well in the Interior. Zucchinis do well when you are lucky that there is no frost in early June. Potatoes do well, as does cabbage, rhubarb (see photo above) and raspberries. When Alaskans grow vegetables in their yards, potatoes and all sorts of cabbage are among the favorites.
The first greens are dandelions
What grows very early after snow-melt are dandelions. Yes, they are among the first blossoms after the long winter. And, yes, they look pretty. But which homeowner wants them in their lawn? However, young dandelion leaves taste really good as a fresh salad. Thus, they are fresh green with a great taste. At the end of this post, I will share a recipe for a baked dandelion dish. But first, let me explain what the deal is with fresh greens and vegetables in Alaska.
Recycling of lettuce and alike
The rest of the year, any vegetables, fruits, roots, and leaves are flown in. This means they are expensive. In the middle of winter, a head of butter lettuce costs $2.50. Each day the lettuce gets smaller and smaller as stores remove the outer meanwhile not so nice leaves until the entire lettuce has reached its permanent wilting point or has become so small that there is no chance to sell it anymore. Probably, it then ends up on the store’s salad bar. 😉 Just kidding.
Why do Fairbanksans, buy thse lettuces at $2.50 in winter? We are happy to have it at all!
Alaska’s meat and fish diet
What you can eat in abundance in Alaska is meat and fish! There are buffalo and reindeer herds near Delta. Many Alaskans hunt and have moose or caribou. When you are invited to a potluck, most likely a friend killed what you eat.
However, only Alaskan Natives are allowed to sell caribou and moose meat. Thus, you can’t buy it, but you can exchange it for other food. Many Alaskans fish halibut or catch salmon. Collected morsels, cranberries, and blueberries have also a nice trading value. Sometimes quilts or home-made clothes work too.
Alaska’s overlooked food source
In my opinion, there is another – often overlooked – food, weeds that you can eat. Of course, they have no value to trade them in for one of the other Alaska food resources. Everybody has them in abundance in their own yard. Full disclosure, there are more dandelion and other edible weeds in our yard than we can eat. 😉
How to prepare them
Pick a basket full of dandelion leaves. Make sure you don’t have any blossoms in it! Wash the leaves and make sure to take out all grass and other non-edible plant pieces. Cut the dandelions and other edible weeds into half inch stripes. In an oven-safe bowl, combine a cup of low fat (2%) milk, a cup of grated Parmesan cheese, 3 eggs, pepper to taste, and 2 table spoons of dried crushed basil. Stir to blend the eggs with the milk. Mix the cut leaves into the mixture until all leaves are equally covered with the egg-milk-herb-cheese-pepper mixture. Note it is easier when you add a handful at a time. Then cover the mixture with some additional Parmesan cheese. Put the dish into the pre-heated oven at 395F (~200oC) and bake for 45 (flat large dish) to 60 minutes (small high dishes like the one in the photos). Energy saving tip: Bake a bread at the same time.
This recipe will serve four people as a side or two people when served as the main with some home made bread. Red wine is a great pairing.
Note that when you can’t get your hands on dandelion leaves, the recipe also works with spinach. However, it will miss the slightly bitter taste that you get with dandelions.
Another tip: Dandelions also taste great as a salad with two tablespoons of Dijon mustard, 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, pepper and salt to taste blended as a dressing.
What is a regional dish from your area? Let me know by email I love to hear from you. Interested in another of my recipes?
Focus Alaska is a series on Alaska lifestyle, events, curiousa, insider travel tips, Alaska shopping and street style.
Photos of me: G. Kramm
Other photos: N. Mölders
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