Preparations of dahlia tubers I saw in magazines or online were anything but exciting. Most I would avoid if it was any other root in a similar recipe -various low fat mayonnaise covered salads. There were also profuse warnings about the variance in dahlias flavor from variety to variety, and basic edibility, so be cautious. I see far more potential for these little gem mines.
When harvesting the dahlia flowers, there is a lovely cucumber-like smell, when digging the roots, the most delicate, lightly sweet, almost celestial carrot sensation. This was the initial characteristic that drew me into the idea of eating them.
On a bright November day, the coveted patches of dahlias now seas of writhing black slime from the frosts, the time had come to bring the precious tubers to light. The big dig took the whole morning just to unearth, let alone fuss over, the tubers. I unearthed mine in the food forest as an afterthought.
I just tossed these tubers in one of the flowerbeds by the house to freeze in the coming cold. I had read they develop more sugars after long, cool storage. Not interested in waiting that long, I’d let the freezing cold speed things up.
Now in December, I retrieved the frozen tubers and let them thaw before peeling, and throwing them halved into boiling water.
This is the method I’ve used for sunchokes (Helianthis tuberosum) per the cookbook recommendations I’ve found. It works, although the simple preparation of boiling doesn’t break down the inulin they contain, which on my digestion is unpleasant. Dahlias are also said to contain inulin, so I wondered if I shouldn’t try something more drastic like the long bakes over hot coals used by Native American tribes to break down sunchoke inulin. To have more accurate comparison, I decided to just go with the sunchoke preparation I was familiar with.
Usually I add some lemon juice to the sun chokes water, so did the same for these dahlias -just a tablespoon worth in about a quart of water. This keeps sunchokes from turning blackish brown from their high iron content, which I wasn’t sure these dahlias had. They were already a light tan. But I did it anyway. It adds some flavor.
After five minutes, I pulled a smaller piece out and tasted. The raw piece I tasted before cooking had the exquisite light carrot flavor I so love, but was mealy, had a bitter element, and a hollow, though dusty center flavor that I can only describe as dirt.
Cooked, it was a little nicer in terms of texture -more crunchy. But that dirt flavor was still rumbling at its base.
After some figuring, I sliced the tubers into julienne, and sautéd them in butter. I sprinkled them with allspice, some hickory smoked salt, and just a dash of cayenne. When some nice golden brown patches appeared on their edges, I removed them, tasted, and they were suddenly very good.
The salt was pleasantly prominent. The richness of the hickory filled in the dirty core flavor, transforming it to a much more pleasant earthiness. The allspice added a beautiful depth and complexity to the carrot flavor.
I knew just what would cinch it though, so poured some maple syrup into the still hot pan, tossed in a couple of raw, unsweetened cacao chips, a few drops of vanilla tincture, and stirred.
The heat wasn’t enough to melt the cacao, but enough to infuse the syrup with its flavor. Lightly poured over the rich, salty, carroty tubers, it transformed them from inedible hunks of dirt I spit out between bites, to worthy of consuming the plate.
I wouldn’t exactly call this preparation a dessert. Even with the sauce, it could still work as a side dish to a main meal because, among all the complexity, the sweetness didn’t stand out much. Others who tasted thought it was the natural sweetness of the dahlias.
The one drawback was its texture, which was still a little spongy. I think further sautéing at a lower heat until fully crisp would help reduce this.
I think it would also improve the digestibility. Compared to sunchokes, these were much better on my digestion, even if a bit heavy. I might try baking dahlias for a long time (I’ve seen suggestions of doing this in a clay pot) and see if they improve, both in digestibility and flavor. The long heat that breaks down the inulin is also supposed to make sweet flavors more prominent.
Overall I like them, and think there is great potential for them as a highly sought delicacy. I just need to figure out how to more efficiently grow them.