Harvesting greens for a dinner salad is a breeze when you plant a mesclun mix.
Salad is perhaps the easiest summer dish to prepare—just tear some lettuce leaves into a bowl and drizzle on a dressing, right? Maybe so, but I like a salad whose texture and flavor profiles are a bit more complex. Here’s how I make it happen.
Salad greens are the first thing to come up in my garden. And am I ever ready for them after a long winter! I’d get tired of plain green salads in a hurry, though. So, I plant lots of varieties of salad greens. Just a few of each variety so I’m not overwhelmed. Then I succession plant every few weeks until the weather gets too warm for these cool-season lovers.
Select Tasty Seeds
A good mesclun mix is my go-to salad seed packet. I mix it up even more with buttercrunch along with red orach and merlot and lolla rossa lettuces for a pop of color. A few mizuna and arugula seeds guarantee extra flavor oomph. I also plant several radish varieties for crunch and zest. They’re ready about the same time as the greens.
Thinly sliced colorful radishes add pizzazz to salads without being overpowering.
In early spring, that’s about all I have to put into a salads from my raised beds, so I add weeds! Young dandelion greens, purslane, and chickweed are always available and pack a tangy punch.
Raid Vegetable Beds
Soon beets and carrots begin sprouting. Scissors come in handy for thinning beets and you can bet I add those clippings to my salad. While I’m at it, I wander over to the carrot bed and judiciously cut a few fringy tips to toss in my salad. Nothing tastes fresher.
Baby kale and young spinach leaves are growing about this time, too. Both add texture and flavor dimension, but at this stage, they’re so tender and delicate that picky eaters won’t notice them.
As the season progresses, more and more options emerge for salad goodness. Sugar snap peas make a bright addition. Later, beets, carrots, and kohlrabi add color, flavor, and texture. Broccoli florets and shelled English peas, raw or lightly steamed, turn a salad into a hearty dish. Tiny cucamelons add more than a suggestion of citrus to salads; they’re also good conversation starters.
Grated or sliced carrots add crunch and color to salads. For even more color, plant several carrot varieties.
Don't Forget Herbs and Fruits
Like many gardeners, I plant herbs for all kinds of culinary uses. Only recently did I discover how much they add to a salad’s overall flavor profile. I like to combine dill, basil, and flat-leaf parsley. The Parsley leaves go in whole; I snip dill and basil into tiny bits and mix them in well so every bite gets a hint of fragrant herbal sophistication.
Once blueberries ripen, I may sprinkle of few on top of my salad for color and a burst of acidic sweetness. If I’m feeling fancy, I grace a salad with a few edible flowers. Peppery nasturtium and spicy bee balm are two of my all-time favorites.
Now that I’ve learned about beet raisins, I sometimes add a few of those to my salads, too. They’re delicious.
With all these possibilities, I can tweak my salads any way I want. They never get boring. Better yet, they’re plenty tasty naked. When I decide I’d like a drizzle of dressing, I’m partial to this simple recipe. It will keep for months in the refrigerator and just needs a good shake before each use.
Sweet and Sour Salad Dressing
• ¼ cup canola or other light vegetable oil
• ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
• ¼ cup sugar
• 2 tbsp soy sauce
• 1 tsp sesame oil (optional)
1. Pour all ingredients into a small mixing bowl.
2. Blend with immersion blender.
3. Pour into pint canning jar, cover with lid, label, and refrigerate.
Proportions can be adjusted to taste.
Carole Coates is a gardener and food preservationist, family archivist, essayist, poet, photographer, modern homesteader. You can follow her Mother Earth News blog posts here.You can also find Carole at Living On the Diagonal where she shares her take on life, including modern homesteading, food preparation and preservation, and travel as well random thoughts and reflections, personal essays, poetry, and photography.
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