Red, White, and Blue Salad

As Americans come together to memorialize the founding of the United States, I would like to memorialize this salad that I made to pair with grilled duck breasts – so I don’t forget how well this combination turned out, and because the timing is perfect for coordinating fresh ingredients with festive holiday colors. I only used what I had on hand, which included red: radishes, red romaine, and red mustard, white: mozzarella cheese, and blue: wild blueberries.

 

 

It’s my first time growing radishes (which can be sowed directly in the ground), and I can’t believe how fast they grow! I’m really glad I decided to plant them, because they’re so productive, delicious, and a little different. I got to enjoy the micro greens first, and have been harvesting good sized radishes for a couple of weeks now. I planted them together with beets as was recommended on the seed packet. After I pick all the radishes, I will harvest some micro beet tops, and then the beets will have room to grow. I might try to find space to sow another row of radishes because we just love the spicy kick. I bought one packet of each Early Scarlet Globe Radish and Detroit Dark Red Beet at my local grocery store. They really do a great job of carrying seeds that are adapted to the area and I’m thankful for that.

img_9403Yesterday I thinned out my lettuce rows, so I had a pile of baby lettuce washed and ready. My Grand Rapids Lettuce seeds also came from the grocery store, and Super Red Romaine and Red Giant Mustard I got from MIgardener. Starting with radishes and mustard greens, I wasn’t quite sure where to go next.

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I wanted to use mozzarella (that I had opened for grilled pizza the night prior), so I drew some inspiration from Martha. Her recipe called for Scallions, but I used Chives instead. I chopped up a whole bunch and let them steep in olive oil while I waited for the duck breasts to grill. I added just a dash of both apple cider and balsamic vinegar to my dressing, along with flaky salt and fresh ground pepper. At this point I felt like I was onto something special. I threw some fresh Basil leaves into the salad too, because I figured it couldn’t hurt.

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Duck is often served with a fruit reduction sauce, so I knew that huckleberries (as they are called here) would be a perfect compliment to our protein. Although the wild blueberries are in season, unfortunately they were pretty sparse and dried out yesterday due to the recent heat wave. Luckily, in the freezer I had a jar of berries that I picked last year. Did you know that berries are the easiest thing to freeze? You really don’t have to do anything but wash them, put them in a jar or plastic bag, and stick them in the freezer. They took almost no time to thaw out because they’re so tiny, and they tasted amazing.

  • Radishes
  • Mozzarella cheese
  • Wild blueberries
  • Baby lettuce
  • Mustard greens
  • Basil
  • Chives
  • Olive oil
  • Vinegar
  • Salt
  • Pepper

As soon as I tasted my meal, I felt it must be remembered. The sweetness of the mozzarella and the berries held up to the spiciness of the radishes and mustard greens. The fresh flavor of chives and baby greens was just the right accompaniment to the rich, perfectly grilled duck.

A magical summer storm rolled through around 11 pm and lightly re-hydrated and, more importantly, cooled off the garden. The plants grew a tremendous amount with all the sun we got, but the watering regimen was a lot for me to keep up with.

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What to do with all that mint?

Most gardeners are aware that mint is invasive and will completely take over any area in which it is planted. It creeps horizontally because it is a rhizome. So if you want to grow mint and you don’t have room for it to sprawl, I recommend planting it in a container. I have mine in a nice big planter to bring some green onto the patio. I love how it tends to overflow beyond the edges of the pot. And how I can feel free to harvest as much as I want, because it grows so vigorously. But whether you grow Peppermint or Spearmint, what do you do with all that mint?

Make Tabbouleh, of course! I don’t have homegrown cukes or tomatoes yet, but I’ve got plenty of mint, and parsley – which are the key ingredients to one of my all-time favorite summertime dishes, tabbouleh. Or tabouli? I have no cultural connection to this type of food – but I’ve always just loved it. I’m not even sure when I first tried tabouli. Maybe at the same time that I discovered falafel at Al Salaam Deli when I was at college in Savannah, Georgia? Anyway, ever since I started making it for myself years ago, I’ve put my own spin on the classic recipe. Cucumber, mint, tomato, parsley, lemon, and bulgur wheat are all givens. Imagine a lemon in the bottom left corner of the photo – because somehow I missed that styling opportunity.

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Here’s my twist: I’m a big fan of fresh garlic, and fresh ginger in my tabouli.  And celery! I usually press garlic and grate ginger in all of my cooking – but for this recipe it really makes a difference to chop by hand. A coarse mincing creates just the right size bits to integrate with the bulgur wheat and you will really taste it. Occasionally you’ll get a spicy kick from the ginger.

For the onion element, I prefer diced white onion over scallions. That ties it all together for me, for flavor and texture. Chopped celery provides an extra cool crunch, with an invigorating bite that fits in happily between the cucumber and parsley that are typical in this dish. By all means, use the celery tops too if you’ve got them – not just the stalks.  Romaine lettuce can work well too in this salad. Sometimes I just heap some tabouli on top of lettuce.

 

 

Of course I also chop up a significant amount of of mint and parsley. I use curly and flat if I have both on hand, but I would definitely choose curly if I had to pick only one – again it’s all about the texture. And proportions. I make this more of a green salad than a bulgur salad. Then add the juice of a lemon, some E.V. olive oil, diced cucumbers, tomatoes, and fluffy bulgur wheat. The tiny particles of onion, garlic, ginger, and bulgur collect in the ruffles of the curly parsley, perfectly dripping with lemon juice and olive oil. I like to throw in some cumin and coriander along with salt, and lots of pepper. Lastly, you absolutely have to let it chill for at least an hour – or even better, overnight. The flavors meld together and create something far superior to the sum of the parts. But here they are:

  • Diced Cucumber
  • Diced Tomato
  • Diced Onion
  • Chopped Celery
  • Chopped Romaine (optional)
  • Chopped Mint
  • Chopped Parsley
  • Minced Garlic
  • Minced Ginger
  • Bulgur Wheat
  • Olive Oil
  • Lemon Juice
  • Cumin
  • Coriander
  • Pepper
  • Salt

 

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It may be just as good with a food processor, but I doubt it. For me, it is worth all of the time and effort that it takes to prepare this dish one ingredient at a time. There’s something about handling each of these fresh ingredients that improves my mood and inspires me to eat more simple, fresh, unadulterated food. It’s almost as if the flavors chemically alter my composition, causing me to crave more healthy food. Plus it’s something you can make in large quantities because it keeps well in the fridge or cooler. Let me know in the comments if you try my version or a variation of your own!

First Garden Salad Of The Season

Time to harvest my cool weather crops that I am growing in containers! That means it’s salad time. My Swiss chard was getting bushy, and Kale leaves quite large, so it was really time to start cutting those back for new growth. I also harvested some leaves of Red Romaine, Mustard Greens, and Arugula from a few in-ground plants. A crisp, healthful bounty of delightful flavors that simply can’t be matched by produce from any store! I snipped off the bitter stems of the chard and kale, gave the big pile of greens a rinse to remove any sand or dirt particles, and chopped the leaves in half once or twice so they would fit comfortably in my mouth.

For me, homegrown greens are best enjoyed with homemade dressing. My go-to salad dressing recipe is one of many things I learned from my dad. The inspiration to grow a vegetable garden also came from him.

  • Crushed Garlic
  • Olive Oil
  • Vinegar and/or Lemon juice
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Dijon Mustard or Crushed Mustard Seeds
  • Herbes de Provence.

I won’t spell out the amounts since I don’t measure anything when I make salad dressing, but as my dad would always say, “a little goes a long way.” So just remember that you can always add more to your mixture, but you can’t subtract ingredients. I also prefer not to drench my salads with dressing.

Today I used both apple cider vinegar and lemon juice, completely forgot garlic, and used fresh Tarragon instead of a dried herb mix. It tasted great. My Tarragon plant survived the winter in our breezeway in a container, so I’m pretty happy about that. I didn’t know Tarragon was so hardy, but now I do – it is hardy to Zone 4b! And it thrives in cool, early season temperatures. Artemisia dracunculus. *I want to start learning Latin names.*

My go-to salad ingredients are onion, mushroom, plus some kind of nut, and some kind of cheese – today it was shaved Parmesan and sliced almonds. I also added some grilled chicken breasts on the side because I’m hungry. And had a second helping because I don’t want to get hungry later.

No nasturtiums to eat yet, but hopefully soon.

I did notice that something was munching a few holes in various leaves around the garden. So after I ate, I sprayed the whole garden with BT. I’ve been seeing lots of tent caterpillars in trees along the main roads. They can be pesky.

In other news, I found wild asparagus this week! Also along a main road. My fiance pulled over to a spot that my dad had mentioned to us last year, and we arrived just a little too late. The stalks were huge and pretty woody. I was so excited to yank it out of the ground that I didn’t think to dig up the roots, so I may have thwarted the patch and I won’t be able to replant it for myself. Or maybe it will continue to grow wild – I do not know. But it did not go to waste. There were little baby shoots coming off the stalks that were tender and delicious and went into a beautiful omelette. Now if only the morels would pop up in my spot. A friend shared a few with me and that was a real treat.