I was asked to write this for the Port Townsend Farmer’s Market in 2004.
Here at the Farmer’s Market the day’s harvest is arranged–bunches of arugula and flat leaf spinach, undulating leafy heads of butter lettuce, and salad mix. The basket is full of perfect miniature leaves–frilly or rippled, green and white, or maroon tinted. So many shapes–spoon like or narrow, round to oblong–they delight the senses.
Traditional mesclun includes several lettuces, chicories, and arugula. Oriental salad greens include several mustards and other members of the brassica family. Today’s salad mix may also include a variety of herbs, wild greens, spinach, Swiss chard and edible flowers, but these are beyond the scope of this article.
Mesclun ( pronounced mes-CLOON), is the Nicoise dialect word for a mixture of tender, young salad greens. Renee Shepherd, who used to eat her way through southern Europe, tasting vegetables to include in her seed catalog, says “In France, big baskets of these mixed baby leaves are offered at every greengrocer’s stall, to buy by the kilo for instant no-work salads”. If the price puts you off, consider this– you can add several handfuls of this zesty mix to a regular green salad.
For those of you who would rather prepare a salad with heads and bunches of greens to create your own combination, here are a few tips on salad preparation. Wash leaves in a bowl of water to let the dirt settle out. Dry salad greens to keep them crisp. There’s nothing worse than a soggy salad.
There are several ways to dry greens:1) Place a linen towel in a colander and wrap the greens; let them drip.2) Open a towel and wrap greens lengthwise hold the folded end and whirl. The excess water will spray out in all directions, especially on you. I learned this the hard way as a teenage ‘salad girl’ at a restaurant.3)salad spinners– wire salad baskets with handles can be used but they often bruise the greens. Instead choose a plastic one.
These spinners always bring out the kid in me. I love to twirl the handle as fast as can be and let go to watch it spin wildly.
Small inner leaves can be kept whole. Tear large lettuce leaves or cut them with a non-corrosive knife. Handle them gently as the delicate leaves bruise easily. Toss the salad by hand. Most people add the dressing directly to the salad. Be careful not to overdo it, as the purpose of a vinaigrette is to enhance the greens.
See the bullet for a description of some of the most popular salad greens.
Create your own salad dressing by adding 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar and then adjust it to taste after adding herbs and seasoning. Lemon, lime and orange juices are acidic and add a fresh spark. Consider combining olive oil with flaxseed, walnut or hazelnut oil. Different dressings highlight different greens. Remember that the essence of dressing is to bring forth the salad’s flavor and add a touch of piquancy. Below is a recipe for a salad with spicy Oriental Greens.
Island Delight Salad Dressing: Recipes From a Kitchen Garden–Shepherd’s Garden Seeds. My sister used to garden for Renee and this is her favorite recipe.
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons honey
4 teaspoons soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
1 small clove of garlic, finely chopped
large pinch of white pepper
1/2 cup canola oil.
Vibrant Greens for Salad
Romaine/ Cos leaves upright, oblong ,prominent rib, full flavored hearts.
Butterhead/Bibb undulating exquisite leaves have a butter flavor.
French Crisp/ Batavia loose young plants become more dense as they mature–like people. Compact crunchy crispness of the romaine with the shape of the butterhead.
Looseleaf very popular; for its eye appeal with colorful, tender, crumpled leaves. Delicate and sweet flavor.
Curly Endive/Frisee/French Escarole finely cut leaves, have a frilly appearance, mildly bitter and sometimes nutty flavor.
Raddichio/Belgian Endive tangy flavor, heading chicory. Red varieties deep crimson colored with white ribs.
Arugula/Rouquette dark green leaves with a strong distinctive flavor, anyone who knows this vegetable either loves it or hates it. I won’t tell you my opinion, I’ll let you try it and decide for yourself.
Pak-choy well known for its succulent white leaf stems and dark green leaves.
Giant Red Mustard flavor both pungent and sweet, leaves have purple-red overlay.
Mizuna mildest mustard green with only a hint of spicy flavor. Finely divided margins create a feathery effect. Attractive white veins and thin juicy stalks.
Red Russian Kale deeply ruffled gray-green leaves. with a purple veins, the sweetest and most tender variety of kale.
Tat-soi small, spoon shaped leaves, crunchy and sweet. leaves grow in flat rosettes.