Leaves of green: seasonal salad ingredients
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This time of year is such an alluring adjustment. As the season changes, I thin my closet of summer t-shirts, put away my flats of cans from the summers’ bounty, watch the singular spray of autumn color burst from our lone sumac, and notice that indoor organizing projects begin popping to mind like late-ripening quince. While I miss the bushels of produce from the height of the growing season, there are still a lot of good things to eat…things I forgot about when tomatoes and fennel bulbs were wooing me.
Here are some greens and other things that are bountiful at this later, wetter, more November-y part of the year:
-Not a green, but I have to share. Ever tasted the fruit from those things we commonly call Strawberry Trees? Well, Arbutus Unedo, as it is called in Latin, or the more cold-hardy Chinese variety, has most pectin-rich fruit. Forage these if you haven’t already used them in your own landscaping, not knowing they were a tasty addition to jam that will help it set! Throw a few in a salad once the are red and ripe, they aren’t too sweet at all.
-Since we’re on the subject of fruit, this is the time of year for Fuyu persimmons, pomegranites, and quince. In the greater Bay Area, I’d be willing to bet that a good chunk of us folks know someone with at least one of those trees growing. I recommend offering your help picking! Persimmons are at home with a mix of bitter greens, some flecks of creamy goat cheese, and toasted walnuts. Don’t eat quince raw, but a sliver of quince membrillo on a cheese plate, or topping a salad would be good.
-OK, greens! I’ll start with Japanese red mustard. I pick it when it is little to use in salads, but if you let it go, these leaves can grow bigger than rhubarb leaves (which, remember, are inedible). I love that these taste good raw and cooked lightly, too, in addition to longer, hotter preparations.
-Kale. We all know it, love it, perhaps make fun of it. There are plenty of kinds. I get the longest crop with Siberian kale, as opposed to the narrower Tuscan varieties (also known as ‘dino’ kale). Bake it crispy, have it in a slaw where the leaves can soak in a tasty dressing, sautee it with a little honey and soy sauce… so many ways to enjoy. My father loves freezing it for later when he gets huge harvests from his CSA.
-Amaranth. The leaves are good, the flowers are pretty, and when the blooms fade into seeds you get an orchestra of backyard birds flying in to feast on the remains. It is seriously easy to grow, and leaves are more nutrient-rich than any of these other greens. Eat young or in combination with other greens to balance the vegetal flavor.
-Sorrel. Or dock, if you don’t want to sound as fancy or as French. The rain makes sorrel leaves multiply. Red-viened sorrel, like the plants I grow, is a little less lemon-y than its bright green cousin, but the texture holds up better to cooking. Both types are equally as charming. Pick leaves young for salads, but be sure to try your hand at sorrel soup, it is a treat. (It’ll be a lovely pink color if you make it with the red-viened variety.)
-Chard. Still going strong! I wonder what other gardeners’ experience is, but I can’t seem to kill the stuff. It is almost as rugged as tree collards. Unless there are smaller leaves, I like to de-stem them and add the leaves into the cooking after the stems get a head start. Kind of like cooking dark and white meat separately on a turkey – all parts are just cooked better.
-Lettuce. Now that the hot sun is taking a break, the lettuce leaves are back in business. I like planting different types. Unlike chard, kale, collards, and sorrel, which will continue to grow as you harvest leaf by leaf, I find lettuce bolts too quickly, even when it is cooler out, so I don’t try to make the plants last as long as other greens.
-Radicchio is a bright and bitter green that dresses up any plate with its presence. I harvest leaves one at a time. If you’re buying a small head, I recommend using the leaves whole or tearing them rather than chopping them into ribbons – they seem more dramatic and regal that way. They make the best lettuce cups. After the summer it dies back and gives me tiny little ruby leaves.
-Nasturtium. The leaves are tasty! They have a little spice, so I use them especially when the arugula is picked over to make my salads more zesty.
-Arugula. There are several more wild, stocky types of arugula that grow year-round here in the Bay Area. The leaves are smaller but live up to the expression, “packs a punch.” They are tasty sauteed with a little salt and oil, then tossed with a little parm, pine nuts, and lemon juice. Unexpectedly good.
Enjoy all these greens as the season changes from dry and hot to wet and unpredictable. You’ll find them at farmers markets and at restaurants up and down the West Coast.