GRETA’S SALAD HERBS
I must have been a rabbit in a former life because I just love fresh leafy salads! It is a real joy to wander around the garden and collect not just lettuce but the ever increasing salad herb selection which has become more popular and more available in recent years. These add flavour, crunch and colour to any salad, and a few leaves go a long, long way. Flavours on many such as Red Mustard are very acute and may be hot; so use sparingly. They are best added to lettuce which will create a subtle base for these enlivening flavorants. Many have their origins in Asia such as Chop Suey Greens (which is really Chrysanthemum coronarium). The Japanese use the leaves in tempura and the Chinese garnish soup with the petals from its pretty yellow and white/yellow two tone flowers. I use it in stir-frys along with Mizuna! Anyone can grow these edibles quite simply in the open ground, raised bed or window box. If growing in containers, mix soil with compost and granular fertilizer. To ensure a plentiful supply, liquid feed weekly. There are many good, organic liquid feeds on the market. Salads should be featured at some stage of a meal, either as an appetizer to stimulate the appetite or after the main course to cleanse the palate and settle the stomach. Of course here in Ireland the salad is more often a side accompaniment munched along with everything else!
If space is limited, use the cut and come lettuce varieties. My favourite is Red and Green Salad. Just harvest the leaves as you require them but do not massacre the plant. Interplant with a selection of choice Salad Herbs: most are available as plants or mixed seed packs. However, for a novice the latter can prove too daunting – plus you may not be able to identify the various individuals and flavours can be extremely distinctive. Most provide cutting for approximately six to eight weeks, so I recommend planting or sowing every few weeks. I like to grow in a location which gets half sun and half shade. Otherwise many bolt (go to seed) far too quickly as summer approaches. Everyone knows Rocket but the Wild variety is far superior – it has a strong, pungent flavour and has the added bonus of being a perennial (lasts for more than a year). If you get it to over-winter you will enjoy a continual harvest. Salad flowers are also trendy and fun, adding a touch of artistry to the dinner plate. Simple to grow; try Borage with its sky blue flowers, Chives with its pink ones and Old English Marigold and Nasturiums for the more brash reds and oranges.
Each year I try to grow and sample a few new varieties. This year it is Mizuna Red Knight with its colourful leaves, Tatsoi a ground-hugging member of the pak choi family and Mustard Greens Ruby Streaks which has attractive red serrated foliage but to my astonishment does not taste at all like a Mustard. And, as the children in Scoil Bhreac Chluain cheerfully exclaimed: “this tastes like potato” – and how right they are! Next year hopefully I will try the Snow Pea Plant (Pisum stivum), the tendrils and top few leaves are an important ingredient in Shanghai and Vietnamese cooking. They can of course also be added to Salads!