Salad Days

I love this time of year. The bulk of good weather still lies ahead, and the speed of growth in and outside the garden mean that there are new inspirations for dinner every single day as I make my rounds. Right now, apart from the asparagus and some wild things, the salad stuff is the mother lode of culinary riches right now.

After a solid week of rain, the growth has been explosive across the board. All the seeds I planted a mere week ago are full-on seedlings now, and the more established plants are fast approaching edibility. The salad beds are vernal cornucopias; lettuces are plump and upright, mâche and claytonia are peaking, arugula, chervil, cilantro, chives, parsley, cress, mustards, spinach, tatsoi, and a bunch of others are big enough to snip as needed to make mescluns of surpassing splendor where the buttery tenderness of lettuces is perfectly balanced by sharp radishes, bitter escarole, acrid herbs, peppery cress, and even more seductive mâche. All they need is a thorough washing and editing and a beaker of vinaigrette (made with one of the homemade vinegars, of course) poured over the top. A bowl of just-picked salad is one of the great pleasures in life; picking it just before eating is the secret ingredient. It makes a difference.

The rest of dinner was good, too: wild Alaskan king salmon seared skin-side down for a good long time on moderate heat (use the pale color indicating doneness that creeps up the sides as your indicator) so that the skin became a decadently crunchy carapace atop perfectly tender fish that slid apart on the grain but still had a soft translucency in the center. Because I am all about harmonizing colors, I put it on top of some quickly mashed sweet potatoes to which I added a bit of milk. Cooked this way, the fish renders out a lot of fat, so I poured some of it off and made a quick pan sauce with blackcurrant vinegar, soy sauce, and maple syrup. Various sprouts made for a nice garnish; this time of year red kale, claytonia, and crinkled cress are my favorite decorating leaves because they have such lovely shapes even in miniature.

But as nice as the main plate was–especially the crispy skin–the salad was the thing that all three of us fought over the last bits of. The boy demands salad in his lunch every day now, reminding us that it has to be made “with the homemade vinaigrette.” We set aside some leaves and put the dressing in a little container so he can pour it on at lunch time. Not a scrap of it ever comes home. He eats it with his hands a dinner time, putting his face right in the bowl bunny-style if we let him. The other day he ate the entire bowl that I set in front of him while I finished cooking the rest of the meal. I had to settle for asparagus. When a child grows up in a garden, he will imprint on the flavors found there as the touchstones of taste for the rest of his life. I am hopeful that no amount of adolescent junk-scarfing later on will ever push him off of that foundation. It worked for me, after all.

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  1. Cookiecrumb
    May 20

    Ah. That’s why I like radishes, then.

  2. May 21

    Good for Milo. Hopefully his Lunchables friends won’t be busting his chops over the sissy salad. (Or hopefully he can smack them back.) Our girl takes salad, too; she’s never figured out that what she has is truly “different” but her friends have. (Of course bringing in the chevre and camembert to share with the class probably changed their preservative-addled palates…or at least I hope so.) Anyway, the more he’s in the garden, the happier he’ll be.

  3. May 21

    I’m glad you realize that there will inevitably be an adolescent junk-scarfing period, and that he will return to his base in time. Worked for me, too. I mostly cook and eat as my mother taught me.

  4. Janet
    May 22

    Salmon and salad is today’s dinner.
    If you serve good wholesome food at the start (and don’t make a big deal out of it), kids don’t know they’re not suppose to hate it. My mother was a good cook and I ended up liking liver and spinach.

  5. Peter
    May 22

    CC: Mostly we just pull them, wipe them on our pants, and eat them right in the garden.

    El: So far he hasn’t complained. His friends don’t seem to notice, and the adults are blown away at the range of things he eats.

    Zoomie: It’s a rite of passage.

    Janet: That’s the key; it’s just what we do around here to make dinner and he loves it.

  6. May 23

    I would think it’d be the opposite, Milo saying, “ewww, your mom sends you with lunchables?!” Growing up we always had pretty wholesome foods, my mom always cooked from scratch and my friends LOVED coming to eat at my house.

  7. May 30

    I love that the rains made everything explode. We’re eating crazy salads now too…

  8. Peter
    June 1

    Mo: Yeah, me too.

    Julia: It’s full-on lettucepalooza all up in here.

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