Friday, April 16, 2010

Salad Days

All signs of blizzard long past, my plant friends are returning to visit again. Princess and I have meandered hand-in-hand around the yard and the neighborhood, looking for them. I don't think I've ever been so grateful for a springtime.

After two consecutive years of gardening disaster, I and my pantry are quite ready for a bumper year, thankyouverymuch. I continue to refine my favorites for planting. Still playing with Siberian strains of tomatoes to see if their yields and growing season will give me a leg up on the varieties from Southern hemispheres. Which doesn't mean I'm not hedging my bets. There's room for the handy-dandy hybrids that are tried and true. And delicious. There are plenty of arugula and deer tongue lettuce representing this year. I never got around to saving seeds when everything bolted last fall. Then I never got around to tilling, something that I'm trying to break myself of anyway. I'm enjoying the blessings of my neglect. Also I've decided to yield place to anything that volunteers. Even volunteer dandelion.

With spring in the air, herbal studies have taken on a new earnestness. During the wintertime, we were using the fruits of the summer and applying what we've learned, but with the expression of new yields, we have an opportunity to try new things and grow new things that we regretted not having explored the previous year. The first herbal studies group focused on dandelions and the first wild greens of spring. The group leader tasked everyone with bringing a dandelion dish to the class. She asked me what I had planned on bringing. "Um...kimbop?" It's my favorite pot luck dish and never fails to please. I never have left-overs. I meditated for a minute or two, then recollected that my kimbop tutor had always included spinach in her particular recipe. Hmmm...spinach...dandelion. Yep. That'll sub. I'll bet I'm the first person ever to make dandelion kimbop. Close your eyes, SMK.

We talked about dandelion and the terrific stuff it does for the liver, the lymphatic system, and as a diuretic. This is a fortunate serendipity, since Tool Guy has had some unhappy swelling in one of his feet that hasn't explained itself to his doctor, despite extensive testing. Can't think of many gardeners who celebrate having dandelion popping up in their greenhouses, but I'm one of them. It seems that chickweed, my latest favorite herb for lung support, also sparkles as a diuretic.

Ditto on sweet violets.

Sheep sorrel is another mild diuretic.
And guess what all grows in my yard? I never cease to be amazed at the reckless and extravagant abundance that is to be found just outside my door. See how much I have to be thankful for?

I have another ubiquitous friend invading my faltering asparagus bed which I've identified as garlic mustard. It's considered an invasive and noxious weed, which I've come to interpret as meaning, "We don't have a clue how to use it and the deer won't eat it." But in fresh salad, it has a terrific mild garlicky taste--without the garlic drawbacks. I've found references to the root being a horseradish substitute, something that bears future exploration...

Fresh is almost always best, so we're plunging into the salad days of spring. In order to make these oddities more acceptable to Philistinian palates, a salad dressing is required. Something light, yet compatible with the somewhat bitter and sharp flavors of the unusual greens. A while back, a foodie friend had made an off-hand comment about using orange juice in salad dressing and this sounded like just the salad to try it on.

Orange and Olive Oil Dressing

1/2 cup orange juice, best freshly juiced
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. Real Salt
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. maple syrup
1/2 tsp. dried dill
3 grinds of whole peppercorn

Run all ingredients through a thorough blend in food processor or blender. Best served at room temperature. Not only does this make a wonderful salad dressing, but also serves as a terrific sauce over fish.

Intrepidly, I took to the yard with basket and scissors in hand. I'm sure I cut quite the figure. I've come to imagine that my neighbors have either given up trying to figure out what I'm doing or avail themselves of a front row and provide themselves with a tasty snack to sustain them during the morning's entertainment. When Tool Guy came home, I pointed out the separate containers of washed and chilled greens for his delight and delectation. He was duly impressed. He turned to my mother and said, "Most families throw their lawn clippings on the compost pile. We eat them." See what I mean? Philistine. But he's going to eat his words. Every. Single. One. With salad dressing.


Rosie_Kate said...

Mmmm... I love those wild spring salads. Now I'm gonna have to go pick one for supper tonight and try your dressing (I've done a similar maple vinaigrette with red wine vinegar). We have all sorts of mustards growing around here, especially with all the ground we've dug up for construction projects. So delightfully pungent and bitter...

Loztnausten said...

Mmmmm...maple vinaigrette...! Sounds delicious!

maggie said...

Orange juice dressing. Why have I never heard of this before? That sounds like a wonderful complement to a wild spring salad.

Loztnausten said...

It's pretty awesome! And as I said, Tool Guy thinks it is great on fish, too!

pprenosil said...

The local food coop sells an orange thyme dressing that is delicious.