Posts Tagged ‘food garnish’

winter salads

As part of our Christmas dinner, we had salads made entirely from our own yard produce. I had not used any season-extending devices at all, and we’d had cold weather and a few light snows, so these are the greens that thrive on cold and neglect. The “trim” is a ring of pansies, which I wrote about in an earlier post. The greens included arugula (see the post before this one,) pansy leaves (cool, tender, and delicious,) chervil, a few nasturtium leaves still surviving in a sheltered corner, my new favorite lettuce, and sunflower sprouts.
The lettuce that I’ve enjoyed most this year is a gorgeous deep red romaine called “Marshall.” I think I got my seeds from Territorial. the color is a dramatic foil for almost anything else, and it doesn’r get bitter in our sudden hot springs. It’s beautiful in the garden, too. You can see it poking up through a light mulch in the photo below.
The other photo shows my sunflower sprouts, and I wish I had known earlier how delicious they are. The first taste is pleasant and mild, but a delicious nuttiness rapidly reveals itself. These are the only sprouts that I’ve enjoyed eating out of hand, but they’re even better in a good mixed salad.
Sunflower sprouts seem to be best when soil-grown, and they need a little light. I have a grow-light for my spring seedlings, and it usually goes unused in the winter, so I used it to grow the sprouts, but a sunny window would be fine.
Start with a large flat container. I used a terra cotta saucer intended to hold a large potted plant, just because I had one sitting around. Put in an inch of good organic soil. Scatter raw organic sunflower seeds (in shell) very thickly on top, touching each other. Pat them into the surface, cover with another 1/4 inch or so of soil, water well but don’t make the soil soggy, and wait a few days. The books say to presoak the seeds, but I didn’t and they did fine. When they start to emerge, begin giving them light, and harvest when they are green and are trying to shed their shells. I snap them off at soil level with my thumbnail, flick off the clinging shell, rinse well and dry, and start snacking. They go well with spicy mesclun mixes but can also give depth to a simple lettuce salad. Grow lots, so that you can use them lavishly.

pansies- more than an edible flower


Here in Albuquerque, pansies are a pretty presence during the fall, take a brief break in the coldest weather, and then bloom themselves silly in the spring. The hot weather finishes them off. For years I’ve enjoyed their beauty and have used the edible and mild-tasting flowers to beautify my salads. It was only this year that I learned that the leaves are edible too, and in fact are very tasty, with a substantial but tender texture and a cool, slightly minty taste rather like mache’. Now I put in pansy plants in late September, let them establish themselves for a month, and begin plucking leaves and flowers at will until late November. After that I leave them alone until they show fresh growth in the spring. When making mixed salads, the mildly sweet flowers and leaves go better with lettuces than with the wilder-flavored greens like arugula or any of the chicories. Keep the flowers on top where they can be appreciated. I like to lay them on after the greens have been dressed. Gently floral olive oils like the ones from Provence and mild vinegars or a little lemon juice let these subtle flavors shine.

It’s worth noting that this triple-purpose quality makes pansies a good use of space in the cold months, and means that you can get some local food even from a pot of flowers by your door.

Some people make derisive noises about edible flowers, and think that the trend was a 1980’s California phenomenon and is now long over. Well, edible flowers have a culinary history several hundred years old at a minimum, and not likely to be over any time soon. Anything that both beautifies food and makes it taste better is worth learning about and preserving. The best culinary list of flowers that I know of is an appendix in John Ash’s From the Earth to the Table, which is a delightful cookbook in other respects as well. Second-hand copies are often available. Check it out.

If you get your plants from a nursery, ask whether they’ve been sprayed or fertilized, and wait a month or more to make sure they’re safe to eat.