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Garden Lifestyle

The Salad Bed: Still Gathering Greens through the Month of May

The garden is in the spring-changing-to-summer mode and so is the weather; time to get out there and eat the salad greens before they bolt in this heat!

  • The salad bed was planted at the end of March and we have been eating salads for the past two months--it has been well-picked--and now with summer heat coming on, it won't be long before it bolts. Cick on other pix to enlarge and read captions.
    Photo/Illustration: Susan Belsinger
  • Lettuces come in every shape and size.
  • Rustic Italian arugula is one of my favorite piquant salad greens.
  • Chives are a great way to add allium flavor to the salad bowl.
  • Besides lettuces, spinach and baby brassica leaves, I love the addition of herbs and edible flowers to my salads.
  • Washing the greens is of utmost importance, since there is nothing worse than gritty greens! A little vinegar in the water will cause the grit to fall to the bottom of the bowl. 
  • Take the time to pick over the greens before spinning them in a salad spinner to remove excess water.

All this gardener has to do is go away for a few weeks and upon return, I can hardly recognize my garden. With spring rains and good weather, things are growing in leaps and bounds. The transition from May to June in my zone 7 garden marks the change from spring to summer. My frost free date has passed and so tomatoes and peppers have been set out. We have been eating wonderful glorious salads all through the cool season and now we are having a heat wave. This means those lovely tender salad greens are going to start to bolt soon. So now is the time to pick greens everyday and enjoy them before summer kicks in!

Greens in the Kitchen
The first thing to do with greens is to wash them well, even if they say pre-washed on the package. I learned of a technique many years ago that does away with several washings to remove sand, grit, and critters. According to the amount of greens you have, fill the sink about half full with cold water, or use a bowl or salad spinner. According to how much water you are using, add one tablespoon to one-quarter cup of vinegar to the water and stir it in a bit. Add trimmed greens to the vinegar water and swish them around. Let them stand for five to ten minutes, or longer. Lift the greens from the water with a little care not to disturb the water. With this method, greens need only one wash about ninety percent of the time. If greens are caked with silt, rinse them well first under running water before putting them in the vinegar bath. The vinegar dislodges both soil particles and insects, which drop to the bottom of the container. The vinegar does not flavor the greens. Any vinegar can be used; I keep ordinary distilled vinegar for this purpose, as it is much less expensive than other kinds.

A Matter of Taste
Salads can be used to play many parts in a meal or sometimes as a meal itself, as in a main course like a chef salad or a taco salad. They can be served to stimulate the appetite as a first course (as is the habit in American restaurants); or to refresh the palate as an intermezzo, (a light course to cleanse the palate after a heavy or strong-flavored dish served in between courses); or as a final course to aid in digestion of your meal. 
When I prepare a salad, I look for a balance of the four elemental tastes:  salt, sweet, sour, and bitter. When put together with these tastes in mind, we get a balance of taste and a depth of flavor that is deeply and pleasantly satisfying. Greens themselves, in varying degree, provide mineral salts, extra salt can be added according to taste. Many greens, especially when they are very fresh, taste sweet, lettuces and cabbage notably so. Some people add a pinch of sugar to dressings to accentuate this sweetness. I like to use a little of ingredients, such as fruit, nuts, or cheese that have natural sugar. A few greens, such as sorrel, are sour; for most the acid in vinaigrettes, or the lemon squeezed over cooked greens at the last minute provides the sour component. Quite a few greens have some taste that most people describe as bitter. You will often find that the bitter and sweet are combined in a complex way. Many of the mustards and chicories show this trait to our palates. Salt and sweet are often overemphasized in our cooking, I’ve noticed that Americans are becoming more adventurous, thus discovering that they have a full set of taste buds. Salads offer us the possibility of savoring all of the tastes we are born with. Since the elements of salads are not cooked together to marry flavors, texture, color, and flavor of each ingredient have added importance. Freshness of ingredients is essential. 

For instructions on the art of creating a salad, click on this link: How to Build a Salad

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