Keepin’ It Veal: Eating Weeds, Turnips and Hongos

roasted turnip and dandelion greens

New Jersey, it’s like a cross-section of the entire United States stuffed into a very small area — fenced-in by heavy industry, ugly sub-divisions, peaceful tidal bays and relaxing shore towns — but with its own very distinct character. And, if you drive around it long enough, you’re bound to see some pretty interesting stuff. This goes for the social and the edible, as well as the geographic and architectural.

For example, every spring, you’ll find aged Italian-Americans risking the wrath of New Jersey State Troopers as they harvest dandelions from the banks and verges of Jersey’s myriad highways and parkways. The first time I saw this I thought it must be part of a program to get the elderly outside and active by having them weed public areas. Then, when I’d learned what they were really doing, I marveled at the genetic lottery these robust octogenarians were winning in spite of eating greens picked from the sides of some of the most heavily trafficked roads in the country. So, even though I was apprehensive — for that reason, as well as only having ingested dandelions previously in the form of the disgusting traditional British beverage Dandelion & Burdock (something my grandparents used to trick me into drinking by telling me it was Coke. Its taste is somewhere between sarsaparilla and rust.)— I figured I should give it a go myself.

roasted veal chop, roasted turnip and dandelion greens

Now, I haven’t yet had the privelige of picking my own weeds for dinner as cars and trucks whizz by on the NJ Turnpike, and when I do, you can sure you’ll hear about it right here, but I have experimented with eating dandelions a couple of times. The first was an unmitigated disaster, as their unbelievable bitterness ruined an entire meal: leaching acrid chemicals into the sauce and turning my mouth so far inside-out from the first bite that I spent the rest of the evening scrubbing the insides of my cheeks almost raw with a toothbrush.

roasted veal chop, roasted turnip and dandelion greens

But recently, I decided that they deserved a second chance. So, arming ourselves with a little research, as well as a precautionary array of tongue scrubbing devices, we set about turning a large bunch of sandy weeds into a delicious side dish. Happily, after a sound preliminary blanching, the outcome was an enormous improvement on our first, rash experiment. And, as part of a scrumptious early fall dinner of veal chop, rich buttery rosemary-brandy cream sauce, and a frankly beautiful (if I do say so myself) roast turnip, I was delighted to concede that eating weeds can, in fact, be very enjoyable.

roasted veal chop, roasted turnip and dandelion greens

Of course, the world needs another basic veal chop recipe like Williamsburg, Brooklyn, needs more frickin’ hipsters, but we have been on kind of a veal chop kick since we returned from Argentina in the spring. It’s an expensive habit for sure now we’re back, but in Buenos Aires, as with all kinds of cattle products, veal is very reasonably priced and is treated with a similar degree of skill as the more famous beef.

One particular veal dish stands out. At the rather trendy-looking Grappa restaurant in the Palermo “Hollywood’ district of BA, Amy had a spectacular grilled veal chop slathered with one of the most mushroomy sauces imaginable. It was as if entire sacks of porcini mushrooms had been somehow liquefied on her plate. The menu described it simply as a chuleta de ternera con crema de hongos and our pathetic (certainly for food and menus) dictionary couldn’t tell us what hongos are.

chuleta de ternera con salsa de hongos

Still, we knew that we liked them and they were delicious, not to mention that hongos is just a fun word to say, so a couple of days after eating said dish, perusing the shelves of a local almacen, we were excited to find large bags of dried Chilean hongos at rock-bottom prices. It was only after we returned to Brooklyn that we learned that hongos translates as “fungus”, but even with a couple of bags of hongos in our pantry, we’re still not exactly sure what kind of fungus we are the owners of. They look and taste very similar to porcini, so we’re assuming that they are a related species, but research into the differences between hongos and setas (wild mushrooms in Spanish) returns no categorical answer except that taxonomically, mushrooms are fungi and fungi are mushrooms. However, one almost helpful Argentine website informed us that, fungus usually refers either to inedible mushrooms, or to the large (usually subterranean) organism of which the mushroom is but the visible, and gatherable, part. To turn the example above ground, the fungus is the apple tree, the mushroom is the apple.

Anyway, though we, like the fungus, might still be in the dark about many micological issues, we can assure you that should you find hongos on the menu anywhere in the Spanish speaking world, you should eat them, especially if paired with veal and a delicious buttery sauce.

Sauteed Dandelion Greens Aglio e Olio

  • 1 large bunch dandelion greens, rinsed of sand, patted dry
  • 1/2 head (6 large cloves) garlic, roughly sliced
  • 2 generous pinches pepperoncino (crushed red/hot pepper flakes)
  • 3 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 2 quarts/2 liters boiling water
  • 3 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


  1. Blanch dandelion greens in salted boiling water for 8 minutes
  2. Drain and immediately immerse in iced-water
  3. In a large saucepan, place olive oil, garlic and hot pepper and then heat pan to medium
  4. When garlic begins to color, approximately 4 minutes, drain greens well and add to pan
  5. With tongs make sure greens are well coated with oil, garlic and olive oil.
  6. Season with salt and black pepper to taste
  7. Give it one final stir, and serve with veal, hongos, turnips or your choice of accompaniments.
  8. Wash down with the wine your uncle homemade in his basement. You know, the stuff that made cousin Vito go blind.

Crema de Hongos – Cream of Wild Mushroom Sauce

  • 2oz hongos or nearest similar dried wild mushroom
  • 2 cups hot water
  • 1/2cup heavy cream
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely diced
  • 1/4 cup onion, finely diced
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 2oz olive oil
  • salt and black pepper
  • 2tablespoons unsalted butter


  1. Pour hot water onto your hongos and allow to steep and rehydrate
  2. Over medium heat saute onions in olive oil until translucent
  3. Add garlic and allow to saute nicely
  4. Drain your hongos but reserve the liquor
  5. Add hongos to onions and garlic and sweat for around five minutes
  6. Deglaze the pan with the white wine and allow to reduce almost completely
  7. Pour pan contents through a fine-meshed sieve or chinoise
  8. Carefully remove hongos by hand and reserve on a plate before pushing the onions and garlic through the sieve to retain some of their solids and leaving behind their fiber.
  9. Scrape underside of sieve and return sauce (& solids) to pan at medium heat
  10. Pour in about 1/2 of your hongo rehydrating liquor (1 cup), boil, and allow to reduce by 3/4, 5-8 minutes
  11. Add cream and reserved hongos and cook, stirring regularly, for 2 minutes.
  12. Add butter to sauce and stir until combined and sauce is shiny
  13. Serve with your grilled/roasted veal chop or any cut of steak or pork you feel like.
  14. Wash down with a velvety Argentine Malbec to affray artery-clogging properties of so much animal fat.

El Salvador 5802 – Palermo Hollywood, Buenos Aires
T: 4899-2577
Every day 12noon to 1.30 a.m.

29 thoughts on “Keepin’ It Veal: Eating Weeds, Turnips and Hongos

  1. I’m not sure if you’re pulling our leg(s) about the dandelion harvesting along the Garden State Parkway (or wherever), but I’m amused as always. Love the first photo!

  2. I’ve foraged for wild nettles before but have never been brave enough to try dandelion, I’m tempted to try it now though, yours looks fantastic! I love the sound of that sauce too…

  3. LOVED your story! I have heard great things about dandelions but could never get past that they are weeds. LOL thanks so much for sharing and the beautiful presentation of your meal.

  4. Patricia – one persons greens are someone else’s weeds, i guess, and unlike spinach or other leafy greens, dandelions grow everywhere, are free, need no particular looking after, and are easy to distinguish from surrounding plants due to their yellow flowers.
    Sam/Julia – the blanching gets rid of a lot of the bitterness, but beware, the wilder the dandelion, the more bitter its leaves, and even cultivated dandelions are pretty damn bitter. It’s advisable to take a bite of the leaves before cooking to give you an idea of just how acrid yours are, and then you can adjust the blanching time up or down a couple of minutes accordingly. Don’t worry though, because they’re weeds dandelions are robust plants, and they’ll still retain their shape and texture after an 8 minute-blanch.
    Joan – i kid you not. reality is almost always funnier than imagination, especially in Jersey!
    Katiek – i am very proud of the turnip. just left an inch of skin on at the top, parboiled and then roasted it. turnips are the new parsnips. you heard it here first…

  5. Dandelion and burdock are both a good source of inulin, a polysaccharide that is also responsible for agave nectar’s sweetness. Since I got diagnosed with gestational diabetes I’ve been reading a lot about low-glycemic sugars, and thought about making a syrup from dandelions and burdock (for a soda pop) when I found out about inulin. Funny that the Brits are already on top of it!

  6. NJ gets a bad rap. It’s a beautiful state, the shore, all the beautiful produce and greenery, close to NYC, but high taxes, over populated and too close to industry.
    I’ve lived here and NY my whole life and have never seen seniors picking dandelions on the GSP! I am hysterical!
    I know a bunch of bloggers who go to Westchester in the spring to forage ramps and fiddleheads, but they are 20 somethings with tatoos, you would notice them!

  7. I make pesto with dandelions all the time, but then I like bitter as a counterpart to the other four flavors (I think it’s underrated). I do not pick mine on the median of interstates, though. Ew.

    My next article is about mushrooms. It comes out on 10/1.

    I think the solution is to graze your veal on dandelions and thus save valuable time.

    Did that catering thing work out OK?

  8. That all looks soooo good. I will try it but perhaps with a pork chop as I don’t eat veal. But I really love turnips. I live in NJ and never knew about people harvesting dandelions from the freeway. My lawn is full of them every spring. They can come and pick them all, if they want. 🙂

  9. I don’t mind a good dandelion salad with bacon and mustard vinaigrette once in a while but I’m not crazy about the dandelion that grows in the US. Maybe it’s a different variety altogether? Worth investigating.

    Anyway, that crema de hongos is calling my name.. and that veal chop too! Mmmm..

    Err.. and no, I wouldn’t forage anything near an highway! Eeck!

  10. Ha, ha, ha… language traps are fun :D. And harvested herbs too ;D

    Here in Spain, hongos have a wider meaning. You could be talking about those itchy microorganisms that get installed in your feet when you visit the swimmingpool too much. Know what I’m talking about?
    The proper thing to say would be setas, if it’s a mixture of them. But the right thing to put on a menu or carta is the name of the seta you are using: champiñones, níscalos, ceps… I love them all.
    However, in South America, they use the language in a different way than here in Spain.

    That chop looks so delicious!!!

  11. LOL at your title…this is the “veal deal”, eh? Wouldn’t it be nice if one could walk along the NJ Turnpike and collect veal chops? OK, I’m shaking out of my dream…I’ll settle for roadkill!

  12. Hi guys! Just returned from my first ever trip to London and it was Fab-U-Lous! We had some amazing meals and I wanted you to know that your blog inspired me to take pictures of my various gastronomic escapades. I didn’t give a bloody hoot about the strange stares and baffled looks – if Amy and Jonny can do it, well, so can I, dammit! Seriously, I thought about We are Never Full more than once and how awesome your site is. Without you guys, would I even thought to order a Pimm’s cup? See? You ARE making a difference in the world!

  13. jensenly – welcome back! how was your trip? thank you – as always for the kind words, and congratulations on embracing your inner-food photographer! If you’re on FLickr, hit us up – we’d love to see your pics!

    Peter B – thanks for the catering tip. She didn’t work out this time, but Marc @ NoRecipes has stepped in to the fray, so it’s going to be fabulous. Thank you for the suggestion though – much appreciated.

    Peter i/M – thanks for stopping by and the props. very kind.
    Peter the Greek – wouldn’t that just be something? roadside veal chops. perhaps in a perfect world, eh?

    Nuria – thanks for the explanation, chica. muy facinante. i’ll remember not to tell them I ate hongos next time i’m at a farmacia in Spain…!

    Stacey – you’re absolutely right about jersey getting a bad rap. if it was so awful, why do so many people live there? and, the tale about seniors dandelion-picking is absolutely true. i have another post on tap about dandelions (and other things) coming up, but the weeds in themselves are fascinating things.

  14. NJ is indeed a diverse kind of place. NW NJ (Sussex County area) is quite rural and home to many many farms and tons of fresh produce. I’m very happy to spend so much time there (especially when I found a farm that raises its own beef).

    I had the same issues with dandelion greens. My family loves them (although no one has picked them by the roadside) but I could never get past the bitterness. Thanks for the suggestion.

  15. I’ve had one less-than-delicious dandelion dinner experiment, but now I’m considering trying again. Yours look pretty awesome, as does the veal.

  16. I’m eatin’ with my eyes looking at your gorgeous pictures, and man I am HUNGRY!! That looks/sounds and I bet tasted delicious. And thanks for sharing stories of seniors making the most of their golden years. Just picturing a highway littered with walkers and Rascals warms my heart!

  17. I seem to remember reading somewhere that dandelion greens should be picked when young and tender only, to avoid excess bitterness. But, not having tried them, wouldn’t really know for sure. Your recipe sounds so good, and enjoyed the story too.

  18. I loved both stories… what a great post! I’m planning on heading to Argentina for the first time soon… I’ll be sure to try a veal chop while I’m there.

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