Spring begins tomorrow, according to the calendar.
And since there’s no master switch to turn on the warm weather, I’ll have to fantasize about visions of fiddleheads, rhubarb, asparagus, watercress and chives. It will take some time, and a lot more heat, before we get beyond the daydream stage for these spring foods.
However, thanks to the greenhouse growers, we can have fresh locally grown spring greens before the spring sunshine reveals the garden soil that’s hidden under the snow. I have been able to buy arugula, spinach, mixed salad greens and baby kale, as well as cucumbers.
Although I often plan meals before going shopping, I leave items like these to chance. Since I don’t know what will be available from one week to the next, I pick up the greens that look good without having a plan for them. One thing that I am quite sure of, on this last day of winter, is that we need more leafy salads.
Arugula is a dark green leafy vegetable with a spicy flavour, that is good either raw or cooked. It has a distinctive flavour that jumped out at me and made me think, “Hey, what’s that?” when I first encountered it in a mesclun mix, one of those mixes composed of several types of salad greens.
There is a mango in the fruit bowl, and I think its sweet fruity taste will go well in a salad with zingy arugula. For the dressing, I’ll make a vinaigrette using olive oil and white wine vinegar, and then scatter a few chopped pecans on top. I like to toss the salad before serving, because I think it’s easier to coat the leaves lightly and evenly with dressing in a large salad bowl than in a personal salad bowl at the table. When tossing, start with a very small amount of a flavourful dressing and only add more if necessary.
Vinaigrette for Arugula and Fruit
45 mL (3 tbsp) extra virgin olive oil
15 mL (1 tbsp) white wine vinegar
2 mL (1/2 tsp) Dijon mustard
1 mL (1/4 tsp) salt
freshly ground black pepper
Shake or whisk ingredients together, drizzle over salad, and toss to coat.
Arugula is also good as a main course luncheon salad, with chunks of cucumbers, sliced radishes (which have also appeared at the Farmers’ market), slivers of green onions, and chopped hard-cooked eggs. Serve with baguette or a whole wheat roll, and a glass of milk for a fresh and easy lunch. You can also use arugula leaves in sandwiches.
Arugula leaves are quite tender, and don’t need much cooking to soften them. Cook arugula like spinach, by steaming with the water that clings to the leaves after washing, or sauté in oil (with a little crushed or thinly sliced garlic, if desired) just until it wilts. Serve as a side dish.
With tender leaves and mild flavour, baby kale makes good salads. Young kale leaves are much less robust than their mature counterparts, which are also good, but in a different way.
I’m planning to make a warm savoury salad by tossing baby kale leaves with a warmed balsamic vinaigrette and topping it with croutons and cubes of old cheddar.
Warmed Balsamic Vinaigrette
50 mL (¼ cup) canola oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
25 mL (2 tbsp) balsamic vinegar
freshly ground black pepper
In a small saucepan, warm the oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, and sauté briefly, being careful not to burn. Stir in the balsamic vinegar and pepper. Heat through and remove from heat. Drizzle warm dressing over salad greens, toss lightly, top with croutons and cheese and serve immediately.
Make croutons by cubing a slice or two of whole wheat bread and toasting with a splash of olive oil in a cast iron frying pan over medium high heat. Then sprinkle with Italian herbs.
Some salads, such as the recipe that follows, don’t even need leafy greens. Although the recipe says to seed the cucumber, I usually skip that step unless the English cucumbers are very big.
Cucumber Feta Salad
From Mooking, Roger & Allan Magee: “Everyday Exotic: The Cookbook.” Whitecap Books, Vancouver, 2011.
1 medium English cucumber, deseeded and sliced
375 mL (1 1/2 cups) feta cheese, crumbled
60 mL (1/4 cup) kalamata olives
45 mL (3 tbsp)` extra virgin olive oil
60 mL (1/4 cup) mint leaves, torn
15 mL (1 tbsp) dried oregano
Place sliced cucumber on a plate and crumble the feta overtop. Add the kalamata olives, juice the lemon over the salad and drizzle with the olive oil. Garnish with the torn mint leaves and season with oregano and salt and pepper to taste. Makes 4 servings.
Margaret Prouse, a home economist, can be reached at RR#2, North Wiltshire, P.E.I., C0A 1Y0, or by email at email@example.com.