Garden Lifestyle

Salad Days

We've had a cool spring and rain so this year the salad greens are phenomenal.

  • Salads needn't be ho-hum--there are so many kinds of lettuces, salad greens and herbs, that the gardener can create infinite variations. Click on pix to enlarge and read captions.
    Photo/Illustration: Susan Belsinger
  • Spinach is always a good bet for salads--it has more vitamin and mineral content than most lettuces. Small leaves can be picked early on.
    Photo/Illustration: Susan Belsinger
  • I am loving the variety of mizunas--this red one adds great color and flavor to a salad.
    Photo/Illustration: Susan Belsinger
  • Purple mizuna has green leaves like green mizuna, only the stems are purple. It has a little bit of bitterness and tartness.
    Photo/Illustration: Susan Belsinger
  • Herbs like cilantro, dill, chervil and arugula, I grow right in the salad bed, so I can add the baby leaves to the salad for added zing.
    Photo/Illustration: Susan Belsinger
  • Salad blends can give the gardener a variety of seeds in one pack--this one is called Valentine, which features red-hued lettuces.
    Photo/Illustration: Susan Belsinger
  • The salad garden wouldn't be complete without at least a few types of arugula. It has great flavor--sort of nutty, spicy and herbal.
    Photo/Illustration: Susan Belsinger
  • This planting features brassicas--I truly delight in the spicy mustard leaves available.
    Photo/Illustration: Susan Belsinger
  • 'Bloody Mary' mustard makes a bold statement in the salad bed and bowl; it can also be wilted.
    Photo/Illustration: Susan Belsinger
  • My new favs are the frilly mustards--I like the way they look in the garden--and they taste great in salads and on sandwiches. Pictured are golden frills and scarlet frills, which look great growing together.
    Photo/Illustration: Susan Belsinger
  • Spicy green mustard has a thicker leaf than the frills and should be harvested when leaves are small for salads. Once the leaves get larger, I tend to wilt them. They are pretty spicy.
    Photo/Illustration: Susan Belsinger
  • Last though not least, are the small leaves of wrinkled garden cress. These little leaves of Lepidium sativum give a watercress-type flavor if you don't have a stream nearby.
    Photo/Illustration: Susan Belsinger

We’ve had a cool spring and a good amount of rain so this year the salad greens are phenomenal. And I don’t just mean lettuce (although I love the choices we have)… no ho hum salads around here. If you grow some of these greens–and it’s not to late to plant them–every salad will be a chef’s delight.

It is difficult to choose which lettuce or salad blends to plant because we have a plethora of choices to choose from. I like romaine, butterhead and leaf lettuces and I enjoy them in every color from lime green to dark leafy green and red, pink or speckled. It is fun to grow a variety of colors which appeals to the eye, not to mention texture and taste. Fortunately, my gardening friend Deborah Hall, loves salad as much as I do and shared all of her seedlings with me, so I am salad rich.

Aside from the lettuces, there are chicories, mustards, mizuna, arugula, tatsoi, baby beet greens and chard leaves. And of course salad herbs like parsley, cilantro, chervil, dill, fennel, and sorrel–I grow them right alongside the other greens in the salad bed–so I can cut a handful to add to the greens when I’m harvesting. These salad herbs and greens add wonderful dimensions to a salad from tart and bitter to spicy and pungent or herbal.

Before dinner, I head ouside with my favorite garden scissors and the bowl of my salad spinner and clip the leaves right into the bowl. With all of the rain the greens have been pretty dirty. When I bring the bowl of greens into the kitchen, I put it right into the sink and fill it with cold water and add 2 or 3 tablespoons of vinegar. The vinegar causes the grit to fall right to the bottom. After I swish the greens about a bit, I sort through the greens, removing any brown or bug-eaten leaves, putting the washed salad into the spinner basket. When all of the salad is picked over, I am left with a bowl full of gritty water, which I carry outside or into the greenhouse and water plants with it. Then I rinse out the bowl and either give the greens one more washing if they were really gritty, or spin the salad dry. Dump out any water and spin again.

Often I make a simple vinaigrette and serve it over the greens without adding other ingredients. Other nights, I might choose to add adornments–like last night I added roasted golden beet slices, salted pistachios and a little grated Asiago cheese–and dressed it with a balsamic vinaigrette. 

I’m including pix of my salad bed and some of my favorite salad greens which you might like to try; it’s not too late in the season–most of these plants are ready to start harvesting in about 30 days!


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