I generally don\’t much care for salads. I hardly ever order salad in a restaurant, and at home we don\’t usually eat it–except now, when we have it every day.
The salads we have in early spring consist of what a friend used to call \”veal vegetables,\” infant greens as young and tender as little calves who…well, we don\’t want to think too much about little calves. Two minutes before we sit down to eat dinner, I go to the garden with my aluminum mixing bowl and start picking. I don\’t even have to carry scissors–the greens are so tender that I can sever them with my fingernails.
There are two kinds of lettuce in the garden–one deep red, with curly edges, and one with smooth, flat, rounded leaves, whose green is faintly speckled with red. There are tender spinach leaves, a few (I never get a good crop of these) leaves of arugula, and baby chard with rainbow-colored stems. In the kitchen, I fill the bowl with water and swish the leaves around a couple of times–unlike the supermarket sellers of Arizona romaine, I don\’t have toxins to worry about. Then I throw the greens into the salad spinner and give it a couple of turns. Before filling our bowls, I tear the lettuce into bite-size pieces with my fingers. Everything else is small enough to fit comfortably into the mouth.
My American spouse slathers something from a bottle onto this gift of the gods. My Mediterranean genes, on the other hand, allow me only a scant sprinkle of olive oil and a little salt on my salad. I don\’t even do vinegar. Why mess with perfection?
This blessed routine will continue until the weather gets hot, the lettuce bolts and is fed to the hens, and the mature spinach is harvested for the freezer. At about that time, the tomatoes will begin to ripen. And our green spring salads will be replaced by the red salads of summer and early fall.
Notice that our salads are either green (mostly lettuce with a sprinkling of other veggies) or red (tomatoes). To my mind, the archetypal combination of lettuce and tomatoes is a sin against Nature, since lettuce grows in cool weather, tomatoes in hot. For them to occur simultaneously, something had to be speeded up (the tomatoes), or slowed down (the lettuce) in some kind of artificial environment.
If I were braver, I would bung some dandelion greens into the spring mix. If picked early enough, dandelions are supposed to be an excellent tonic, and not bitter. Every year, while doing the first garden weeding, I dust off a young dandelion leaf and eat it. It may just be me, but every year it tastes way too bitter for a salad. The most success I\’ve had with dandelions is in making dandelion wine.