We have loads of greens growing in the Communal Garden right now so I thought I would write a bit about salad and greens and herbs.
Lettuce and other greens grow really well all season long in our cool climate. As soon as the leaves are big enough to eat you can pinch them off from around the outside of the plant and leave the plant to keep growing and producing. Pick what you need only for the evening’s salad and the rest will stay most fresh if left in the garden. This goes for lettuce, herbs, and “cooking greens” like spinach, chard, mustard, kale, and beet greens. The greens are lovely raw in a salad when you pick them at their “baby size” and can be incorporated into your standard salad mix. The flowers of many of these are delicious too.
Building your salad: My Foodie Mentors taught me to skip the store-bought salad dressing in favour of and herb, an oil, and a vinegar(acid-could be lemon/orange/lime juice) So, a salad would be made, for example, by tossing greens with lots of fresh tarragon leaves, with olive oil and white wine vinegar. Done. Get fancier by adding any chopped veggie or fruit, a cheese and a nut or seed for a crunchy texture. Some combinations of the above work really well, others not so much. Taste your herbs and greens and think what would go well with them, a sweet cheese and fruit? Sharp cheese? You can also look at different cuisines for what flavours have traditionally been put together; the Caprese salad is a classic, with sweet basil, tomatoes, mozzarella/bocconcini, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The classic Greek salad basically trades out the basil for oregano, the bocconcini for feta and the balsamic for lemon juice. The classic Ethiopian salad is tomato with minced green jalapeno as the herb, and lemon juice. You can fill out any of these with loads of mixed greens out of the garden for a nice big salad.
1- Toss your greens in the oil first to coat well, then add the vinegar or lemon juice. This will slow the wilting.
2-start with a scant amount of oil, and add more if you need it.
3- Just a splash of vinegar or lemon juice will usually suffice.
4- Treat cheese as a seasoning. Buy good quality stuff and use it sparingly.
5- Toast your seeds and nuts and let them cool before adding to the salad.
6- Try out different vinegars. Apple cider vinegar will give you fruitiness, while white balsamic is milder than regular balsamic, but still sweet. Also try out different oils.
7-Mash a ripe avocado in your bowl and thin with a tiny bit of oil for a creamy, super-nutritious dressing base.
8- Use onion sparingly. Slice a little bit as thin as possible and let it sit in the bowl with the olive oil while you prep the rest of the salad. Try shallots.
9- The calendula are blooming, edible and nutritious, and sooo pretty so put the petals in all your salads.
To help you get inspired I picked the brains of several gardeners who are also passionate about their salads.
From Donna Vultier: “ Hands down our favorite is a mix of as many greens as we can find with some leaf lettuces mixed with the spicier greens like arugula, mustard and mizuna. Our house dressing is a vinaigrette with a herb infused white wine vinegar from Switzerland called Kressi (available at Valbella), garlic, Dijon mustard, a touch of chili garlic hot sauce for heat and then half and half olive and canola oil. In the summer we often use this as a base for our evening meal and add grilled chicken, broiled steak sliced up, duck confit or baked arctic char on tp. Mmmm…summer!”
From Dea Fisher: “My personal favourites [herbs] are cilantro, nasturtium leaves and oregano. They blend well with such combinations as goat cheese/blueberries, or orange/blue cheese/pecan. Marjoram is also a wonderful choice and we should consider [planting] it for next year.
Chive leaves are well known and a salad isn’t complete without them for me, but few realize you can also eat the flowers. They do make a salad look beautiful. Mint makes an interesting addition that really freshens the flavour, and lavender can give a delicately fragrant surprise that again marries well with goat cheese. Dill is wonderful in summer salads, but is strongly flavoured, so a little goes a long way. It teams well with creamy flavours. Fennel is another one, but I don’t recall whether we planted any. Thyme is a good herb to use where a stronger and more earthy flavour is wanted and strengthens your flavours to team well with barbecued meats, for example. Stems are woody. So the tender leaves should be stripped from the stem before adding them.
The star of the garden for flavour is sweet basil. While there are many ways to use it, you can’t beat the simplicity of treatment the French and Italians give it: slice rich, ripe tomatoes; add slices of fresh mozzarella; tear up some basil leaves to sprinkle over, and then drizzle with balsamic vinegar and grind over some fresh black pepper. Voila!
Don’t forget those nasturtium buds and flowers! They look beautiful in a salad and are so delicious.”
From Graeme Williams: “ Mostly I will make a simple vinaigrette with olive oil, white wine vinegar & Dijon mustard & just toss my freshly picked leaves in this dressing – sometimes with toasted walnuts & crumbled goats cheese.”
From Tasha Sawyer: “As for greens, I like a green salad with the addition of avocado and sunflower seeds. For the dressing, I like to make cilantro coconut vinaigrette.”
Tasha also gave me an almost-recipe for the amazing delicious mustard we are growing:
“(You can also use kale and chard in the same way.)
For every 500g of cleaned, chopped greens: 2 slices bacon, finely chopped; 3 cloves garlic minced; 1 t sugar; 250 mL chicken or veg stock; salt and pepper
Cook the bacon over medium heat until it releases its fat. Add in garlic and sauté 30 seconds or until it is softened. Add in chopped greens, sugar and stock. Braise about 10 minutes until greens are soft. Salt and pepper to taste.”
Sometimes you need a fruit vinaigrette. For example, for a salad made with spinach/chard/kale; dried or fresh cranberries, peaches or apricots; and almonds or pecans; drizzled with melted brie, you need to toss it with a Saskatoon or raspberry (locally picked but not from the Community Garden of course) vinaigrette which is easily made by putting your berries (a cup or two) in a blender with enough white wine vinegar to get it saucy (start with a bit and add more as you need to), a small dollop of honey, drop of avocado oil and pinch of salt. (By the way, it doesn’t store well. I tried, don’t bother.)
Here are some websites for more inspiration:
And if you’re wondering about what to do with all that gorgeous hyssop (this isn’t a salad mind you, but we should be starting to harvest carrots soon…),
-by Nicole Tremblay with thanks