By Camille Cody
From the average gardener to the serious locavore, spring is synonymous with fresh, baby greens. What other time can you get authentic spring mix for your salads? Though they fall under the generic ‘greens’ name, the amount and variety of tender little plants you can munch in your salad bowl is astonishing and there are endless combinations to choose from:
Lettuce – The varieties are amazing! Romaine, Looseleaf, Crisphead, Butterhead, Lola Rosa, Deer’s Tongue, Black Seeded Simpson, Oakleaf, Bibb, Flashy Troutback; many of these are pre-mixed in ‘mesclun’ seed packages. An old-timey alternative to a basic salad is the Wilted Lettuce Salad: Fry up some chopped bacon, add a pinch of sugar, salt, pepper and apple cider vinegar to taste and pour hot over washed and chopped lettuce. Add hard-boiled eggs or thinly sliced radishes.
Arugula – Also called ‘rocket’, this brassica is known for its particularly meaty taste and spiciness. This salad green goes great with nuts and feta cheese in a simple balsamic dressing.
Mache/Corn Salad – This green grows wild in Europe and they love it! It’s a market standard there and taste ranges from bland to nutty. Though germination can be low, it’s a very hardy green and is a great option for the over-wintered garden. Eaten raw, it’s great mixed with other salad greens.
Orach – Also called ‘mountain spinach’ or ‘giant lamb’s quarters’, orach is a deep magenta-colored green that grows well here in our soils and makes for an uber-tender and mild tasting salad green.
Chicory – Chicory is to lettuce what radish is to apple; it’s stronger flavor may be more of a hurdle to get over, but either shredded raw into a salad or steam sauteed with other greens like spinach it’s a healthy and tasty option.
Dandelion Greens – Most of us grow dandelions whether we intend to or not, but how we use them is totally up to us! Dandelions can be made into everything from a coffee-substitute (the roots) to wine, tea and salad. They make great container plants for apartment-dwellers and though their bitter taste is mollified in blanching or cooking the greens, many people prefer them raw in a salad.
Raddichio – The larger heads of Italian raddichio you’ll find later in the season don’t look much like their baby versions early in the spring. Young ones haven’t turned red yet or taken on the tougher, cabbage-y texture. This is one green that makes for a great steamed salad or added to soups.
New Zealand Spinach – Thrives by the ocean and bugs and disease rarely bother it, not a true spinach but actually in the carpetweed family. It’s great in raw salads.
Baby Kale – The varieties of kale we have here vary widely in texture and appearance. The first tender leaves are some of my favorite for raw salads and and make for great sauteed greens later on. Kale chips were an exciting discovery for me; simply coat each large leaf lightly in olive oil, some vinegar, salt and pepper and bake in a 350 degree oven for 8-10 minutes. Crunchy, tasty green chips!
Baby Beet Greens – A great way to plant beets is to sow thickly and then thin as they come up to about 3-5 inches, harvesting the greens for your first salads of the year. They taste much like Swiss chard and bring a vibrant, rosy red color to your ‘greens.’
Spinach – The spinach is thriving in our cold spring this year (it is quick to ‘bolt’ or go to seed when the weather turns hot) and regular harvesting at an early age will keep the plant producing more and more leaves as the season goes on. Eat the small leaves raw now and when they start getting bigger than your hand send them to the cookpot.
Baby Swiss Chard – Harvest by cutting the tops when these greens are still small and ready-to-eat tender. As the plant matures and sends up neon and vibrant stalks, cut near the base and cook the whole thing, stalk and all. Goes great with crushed tomatoes or in a pasta sauce.
Escarole – The lighter colored leaves on the inside of the head are milder tasting than the darker green leaves on the outside. Goes great with any salad containing bacon.