by Emma Roth-Schwartz
It seems that we only just got a little spring weather; since it is usually summer around here by early June, it seems like the last chance to squeeze in a column about the salad greens you may be harvesting now if you planted radishes and lettuce during our March thaw.
So – here it is: your guide to How to Build a Salad.
At our house we usually plant some sort of lettuce mixture for early spring greens. Sometimes these seeds are called “mesclun,” or “cut and come again” mixes. Any combination of lettuces, spinach, and early swiss chard makes a good foundation for a salad. How much and what you add to the upper “storeys” will depend upon how close you want to get to making a full meal of it. If you like stronger-flavored greens or are feeling adventurous, you could try adding arugula (aka garden rocket) or maybe some borage, which is an herb whose leaves taste slightly cucumberish. The plants are often available at local garden centers and can be set out in your garden now that they are not in danger of freezing to death. Be sure to put them where they can reseed themselves and not be weeded out in early fits of garden cleanliness. Even the lowly purslane makes a nutritious salad additive (high in vitamin C), and few people have to plant it, although varieties bred for juiciness are available as garden seeds. It comes up in most people’s gardens without coaxing and is usually considered a weed, but if you can identify purslane, you can eat it. Do be sure, though, before you nibble.
A layer of veggies in a salad is a good thing; I like grated radishes and/or jicama, which can often be found in local supermarkets. Cooked (or reconstituted dried) mushrooms are good too, of course, and torn-up artichoke hearts. It is nice to make the veggie layer out of lightweight pieces so they toss nicely with the lettuce.
If you add some protein, you might just have made dinner: shredded or grated cheese (your choice), thinly sliced hard-boiled eggs and/or salami and shredded cooked chicken and/or ham are all flavorful additions.
Having gone this far, why not add some sprinkles on top? Of course most edible seeds and nuts can go here; grinding or chopping them up a bit will keep them from all falling to the bottom of the salad bowl. Croutons are also a plus, even if your salad will be served with bread, which is highly recommended. For sheer excitement and the fun of it all, consider adding edible flowers: borage flowers and nasturtiums are the obvious candidates, but pot marigolds, violas and pansies can also play a role. It is safe to taste these to find the kinds you like, and nasturtium leaves are edible too. Your guests will be astonished.
After the protein and before the flowers you will need a good salad dressing. (Flowers drenched in anything get sad-looking pretty fast.) When we get our first spring lettuce, usually the only dressing we want is a really delicious olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. But later on when the novelty wears off, a vinaigrette is nice. You can make your own:
Balsamic Thyme Vinaigrette (Ritz-Carlton Chicago)
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
1 T honey
1 T fresh thyme leaves
1 t Dijon mustard
¼ t salt
¼ t freshly gound black pepper
¼ cup olive oil
1 part vinegar of your choice
3 parts olive, canola, or safflower oil
Salt & pepper to taste
Any tasty combination of fresh herbs
And now, since we are approaching strawberry season, let’s think about the fresh fruits to come – strawberries, cantaloupe, peaches, watermelon, apples, pears – they will all be available from local sources soon, in addition to blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and others. Most people like most fruits, and they seem to like each other as well: it’s hard to go wrong with any combination. What most fruit salads need is a nice dressing, so while we’re talking salad, here’s a dressing for fruit salad that will complement most of them:
Fruit Salad Dressing
Cottage cheese (I prefer nonfat small curd)
Honey to taste
Mint leaves to taste
Take it for a spin in your blender until it is fairly smooth; you’ll still see flecks of mint. Keep refrigerated and pour over any and all fruits.
This column of good eating is brought to you by members of the Winona County EDA Local Foods Committee AND a Master Gardener. Questions or comments? Contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org