Here in the Deep South, mild winter days and even those minute by minute longer days of the Lenten Season can be wonderful times for gardening. Planting greens especially!
Lettuces, spinach, herbs, and some root vegetables thrive at this time and should be planted now to ensure a healthy spring crop. Baby lettuces and spinaches are tasty, full of amazing nutrients, and ever-rejuvenating from each harvest. A salad of these mixed greens is easily accomplished in your own garden and even in containers.
When you are the one growing it, the whole premise of garden to table can dynamically change. Start out with healthy plants or even sew your own seeds. I like to get a head start with plugs and plants from somewhere like Bonnie’s (garden centers, big box and hardware stores carry their plants). Think about your favorite salad combos…I love the texture of spinach, the smoothness and crunch of lettuces, and fresh pop from parsley. Of course, rosemary is my standby and planting it all throughout the year ensures a revolving crop of this powerhouse herb.
Many lettuces will bounce right back after harvesting, making these dependable crops for the garden. Planning and planting your garden in phases and stages also provides your table with a good supply of crops, rather than an “all at once harvest.”
When dressing your salad, simplicity is key. A simple vinaigrette can liven any salad and complement the fresh tastes of your garden’s greens. Olive oil, a crisp vinegar (champagne or white wine), salt, pepper, and a touch of Dijon mustard is a recipe for a great, easy, and elegant vinaigrette. This dressing is a classic base, so feel free to enhance with herbs, garlic, lemon and other citruses or onion (recipe below).
If growing your own greens is a bit intimidating, start small with a container or two or tiny plot. Gardening is all about timing…when to plant, when to harvest, etc. Just catch the gardening bug at the right time and you’ll be growing your own salads, sides, and suppers before long.
Here is a list of some late winter herbs to grow for bountiful salads and savories well into spring…
· Red Lettuce
· Romaine Lettuce
· Onions, shallots, chives, etc.
· Brussels Sprouts
This Farmer’s Basic Vinaigrette Salad Dressing:
This serves a full salad for about 4-6…you can double this very easily and add flavor to taste.
· About ¾ cup of good olive oil…I like Spanish, Californian, and extra virgin Italian…Greek too if you can find it! I just like olive oil in general! Remember, you are actually eating this oil, so make sure it tastes good!
· A heaping splash of vinegar…champagne or white wine…depending on how vinegary you want the dressing – I usually stick to a quarter cup or so.
· A weighty teaspoon of Dijon mustard. Mustard emulsifies the oil and vinegar or brings the two together. A peace maker in the mix.
· Salt and pepper…a fine salt mixes well and fresh cracked pepper.
· Whisk, shake, or stir feverishly to fully blend. This is the basic of all basics…lemon, herbs, garlic…you name and the list can go on and on to add to this. Sometimes, though, the most basic hits the spot!
· Lasts about a week in the fridge if you don’t eat it all immediately!