For many who love the bountiful green vegetables of spring, this season is eagerly anticipated after a winter of soups and stews. It’s great to grow a bang up crop of kale or mustard greens, but is a diet of salad all there is to the spring garden? NO!
The spring garden provides many culinary opportunities besides salad. So grow something that makes you slightly uncomfortable. Find a way to eat it and love it, because salad is only the beginning.
The diversity of radishes is a delight. Purple Plums, Daikons, French Breakfast, and Black Spanish Rounds are only a few of what we have to offer. These varieties are all a culinary adventure, shredded into coleslaw or salads, roasted or salted.
Radishes are easy to grow, particularly for kids, because of their short time until maturity. And who says kids won’t eat them? Mine do! Let them harvest these little gems and they’ll take ownership of their bounty – before you know it they’ll be pulling them all up looking for one big enough to eat.
The French have a way with radishes. They preserve them in vinegar, roast, braise or lacto ferment them. Their culture has long valued the spicy earthiness radishes can impart to a dish. Vinegar-preserved radishes and lacto-fermented recipes can be found in the book Preserving Food without Freezing or Canning by the Gardeners of Terre Vivante. Roasting or grilling radishes is a wonderful way to bring out their more complex flavors. Slow roasting these gems requires only salt, pepper and a pat of butter tossed with the warm roots. Braising is a great way to enjoy radishes as well; braised lightly in a flavorful broth then tossed with butter and fresh herbs to finish. Additionally, they can make a wonderful base for a refreshing, unconventional salad, see the recipe below.
Pea Salad with Radishes and Feta Cheese
From: Molly Stevens, Bon Appétit | April 2007
|Yield: 4 to 6 servings
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
4 cups fresh shelled peas (from about 4 pounds peas in pods) or 1 pound frozen petite peas
Heat small skillet over medium heat. Add cumin seeds and toast until aromatic and slightly darker, about 2 minutes. Cool; grind finely in spice mill. Whisk lime juice, honey, and cumin in small bowl. Gradually whisk in oil; stir in dill. Season dressing with salt and pepper. DO AHEAD Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill. Bring to room temperature.
Cook peas in pot of boiling salted water until almost tender, about 5 minutes for fresh (or about 2 minutes for frozen). Drain; rinse under cold water, then drain well. Transfer to large bowl. Add radishes, feta, and dressing; toss. Season with salt and pepper. If using pea tendrils or sprouts, divide among bowls. Divide salad among bowls. Serve.
Greens, with a focus on Kale
Kale has had a rash of good publicity in recent years. Eat More Kale stickers, t-shirts and bumper stickers can be found on city streets everywhere. Many folks know kale as a dense, chewy green that is hard to eat unless cooked down for many hours. But kale is more than a stodgy old green your grandma grew. It comes in a variety of colors and textures and can be used many different ways in the kitchen. It can be made into chips, a delicacy particularly suited to kids. Tossed with some olive oil, salt and pepper and baked in a low temperature oven (275°, 20 minutes, turn halfway through), kale chips will change your life. Along with other greens it can be made into a tasty and nutritious dip. I’ve included the Green Surprise Dip from Simply in Season, below.
Add kale to a blender with fresh bananas, blueberries, yogurt, milk or juice and blended into a healthy, filling smoothie. For those of you encouraging a reluctant ‘gourmand’, the blueberries mask the color almost entirely so you can hook them before revealing your secret. Removing the obstacle of kale’s texture is an added plus for those who struggle with the chewy nature of this green. Of course other greens like spinach can be added to smoothies as well. In fact, a frozen banana and spinach blended together provide a great ice cream substitute for children, an idea I stole from a friend. (Look kids! Green Ice Cream!)
Kale can be made into a wonderful salad using a finely shredded kale with olive oil, lemon juice and other julienned mixed vegetables. You can also vary the dressing by using peanut butter or tahini as a dressing base. Try it before you deny it—this is a great way to use your kale. Eating this way will make you feel great and will provide you many, many palatable outlets for your spring greens.
Green Surprise Dip
From: Simply in Season, Mary Beth Lind and Catherine Hockman-Wert, 2009
- 1 cup steamed kale, Swiss chard or spinach
- 1 cup plain yogurt
- 1 cup cooked chickpeas
- ¼ cup mayonnaise (or substitute)
- 2 cloves garlic
- ½ onion, chopped
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice (or to taste)
- ½ teaspoon salt (or to taste)
Puree all ingredients in a blender or food processor.
Deb’s Kale Salad with Apple, Cranberries, and Pecans
From: Cookie and Kate, November 14, 2012, https://cookieandkate.com/
Yields: 4 servings
- ½ cup pecans
- 8 ounces kale (lacinato, dinosaur, curly or Tuscan)
- 4 -5 medium radishes
- ½ cup dried cranberries (or cherries)
- 1 medium Granny Smith
- 2 ounces soft goat cheese, chilled
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 ½ tablespoons apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon smooth Dijon mustard
- 1 ½ teaspoons honey Sea salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and spread the pecans on a baking tray. Toast them until lightly golden and fragrant, about 5 to 10 minutes, tossing them once or twice to make sure they bake evenly. Remove the tray from the oven and set them aside to cool.
Pull the kale leaves off from the tough stems and discard the stems. Use a chef’s knife to chop the kale into small, bite-sized pieces. Transfer the kale to a big salad bowl. Sprinkle a small pinch of sea salt over the kale and massage the leaves with your hands by lightly scrunching big handfuls at a time, until the leaves are darker in color and fragrant.
Thinly slice the radishes. Add them to the bowl.
Coarsely chop the pecans and cherries and add them to the bowl. Chop the apple into small, bite-sized pieces and add it to the bowl as well. Crumble the goat cheese over the top.
In a small bowl, whisk the dressing ingredients together and pour the dressing over the salad. Toss until the salad is evenly coated with dressing. Serve immediately, or for even better flavor, let the salad marinate in the dressing for 10 to 20 minutes beforehand.
- Adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman.
A word about stir fries and grain salads . . .
I cannot express how eagerly we anticipate the fresh stir fries and grain salads of spring. The key to not making this an overwhelming meal you eat night after night is to learn the many different flavors that can inform your stir fries: garlic, ginger, lemongrass, peanut, sesame, soy sauce or tamari and the list goes on. The key to a good stir fry is the quick cooking of the vegetables and the best recipes seem to combine the sauce ahead of time to be added to the stir fry as it comes together in the pan. Find a grain or protein you like and you are well on your way to a healthy meal that tastes divine. The same goes for grain salads, with a world of grain at our finger tips, bulgur, millet, rice, quinoa all lend themselves to fabulous grain salads that incorporate the early season vegetables.
I have hardly covered the diverse harvest of spring! New potatoes will be coming soon, and asparagus will peek out as well. I encourage you to look up recipes and modify them as you like to learn and use as much of your spring garden as you can.
Finally, enjoy this process! The benefits of a home garden have many implications for personal health. A garden “feeds” you in many ways, by providing exercise, repose for the soul, the best food and the excitement of learning new ways to prepare it.