Recipes of the Unfortunate: Malcolm X and the Dandelion Eaten Two Ways

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Part of a series where individuals share their stories of misfortune and the recipes that got them through.

THE CHEF

Im Ji-Yong, Son of Poet, Gwangju, South Korea

THE UNFORTUNATE STORY

Malcolm Little’s mother would make Malcolm and his sisters a stew of dandelions she’d pick from the street –– a dreadful reminder of their poverty.

The dandelion is a wild flower but also considered a nuisance—mistakenly identified as a weed, an unwanted growth that can ruin a perfectly manicured lawn.

Malcolm’s grandmother — raped by a white man — gave birth to his half-white mother, Louise. This lighter skin tone that Malcolm inherited was a sign of shame to a young, troubled Malcolm. He would wind up in a penitentiary where he converted to Islam, giving rise to X, a variable and the erasure of his slave history. Now, he could be anyone––a leader: by any means necessary.

Mugshot of Malcolm Little before X

In spring, the dandelion flowers come into bloom briefly, soon turning into the white whispers that children blow into the air, unknowingly spreading its seeds out into the earth — germinating the wilderness. The “lion’s tooth” in French, the plant can be identified by its jagged, tooth-like leaves.

Considered a famine food in parts of the West, the dandelion is a windfall in the East. Known for its clearing of toxins from the liver, it is thought to be medicinal while also delicious. The whole plant is edible down to its roots. It is even farmed, not from desperation or hunger but from want. The Koreans like it with a spicy, sweet pepper sauce to balance out its bitter taste. The Japanese sometimes deep fry the flowers as tempura. The roots are dried. Its powder is used in a soothing tea, mass-produced for the ill and health-conscious.

It can be considered a sickness to think of one’s self as a victim. Different from MLK, Malcolm X taught us that we were not simply equal but that we could also be kings.

THE RECIPE

Serves 2

INGREDIENTS

*If foraging dandelions from the streets, be careful that the soil or plant is not contaminated from toxins or pesticides.

  • 2 larger dandelion plants
  • 6–10 dandelion flowers
  • tempura batter
  • vegetable oil
  • gochugaru (Korean dried red pepper flakes) or gochujang (Korean red pepper paste)
  • 3 tablespoons vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon corn syrup
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds
  • honey or sugar (optional)

DIRECTIONS

Korean style (민들레 무침):

  1. Wash dandelion leaves in water (you can also blanch them).
  2. To make the sauce, take 2 teaspoons of gochugaru and mix with 2 teaspoons of corn syrup and one teaspoon of toasted sesame seeds, or simply use gochujang with one teaspoon of honey or sugar.
  3. Add 3 tablespoons of vinegar to sauce.
  4. The sauce should have a sweet and sour flavor to balance out the bitterness of the dandelion leaves. Add honey/sugar or vinegar to taste.
  5. Toss leaves with sauce, coating each leaf.

Japanese style tempura (蒲公英 天麩羅):

  1. Pluck flowers from stems.
  2. Wash flowers thoroughly, and let sit.
  3. For the tempura batter, use tempura batter from store.
  4. Mix water in slowly and carefully until you have a thick, pasty batter.
  5. Heat vegetable oil in pan on medium-high to high.
  6. Dip flowers in batter, coating the flower thoroughly.
  7. Add battered flowers to hot oil.
  8. Fry until a crispy, golden brown.
  9. Garnish with uncooked dandelion flowers (edible) and lemon slices.
  10. The two styles pair well with each other.
  11. Plate, serve, and enjoy.

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