Tuesday 17 August 2010


This is a big topic!  How do you define the word "salad"? I know this is not necessarily definitive, but for me a salad is any dish comprised mainly of uncooked vegetables.

In my garden I often grow lettuces, endives and what my daughters still call "Daddy Salad" -- in other words baby salad leaves . I usually grow these successionally in a series of seed-trays, harvesting them when they are only 2 - 3 inches tall. If you cut them carefully, they will re-sprout two or three times. Many years ago when my girls were younger this was very much my "Signature crop".

"Daddy Salad"
Here's a general view of my salad bed...

A bed of mixed lettuces and endives
NB: In France these things are called "Chicoree frisee". Not to be confused with what they call "Endive", which is what we call "Chicory" -- i.e. the Belgian, Witloof type grown for its pale crunchy chicons.... What's in a name, eh?
I have a lot of trouble with endives, because my soil is too light and sandy -- endives like moist soil.. Unless the conditions are exactly right, they tend to bolt before they mature. However, I am very partial to endives in a salad, so I persevere. I experiment with several varieties, including some I have bought in France, which are generally more tolerant of hot dry conditions.

Endive - Kentucky
 Endives are naturally slightly bitter, and are best blanched before harvesting in order to reduce the bitterness --  in other words you exclude them from the light for a week or 10 days by covering them with something -- such as a bucket or a plant-pot with the drainage hole blocked off. I use a lightweight plastic pot-saucer placed over the centre of the plant. You can also achieve the same effect by tying the leaves up tightly with string.

Blanched endive ready for harvesting

Blanched Endive ready for eating

  Endives come mainly in two forms -- the curly-leaved types and the Batavian (broad-leaved) types. Here is a pic of a broad-leaved type

Endive Natacha, growing amongst Celeriac
Even when my endives do bolt, I don't give up straight away.  I have found that if you cut off the tip of the bolting plant, side-shoots appear (pretty much like the Tenderstem Broccoli I have mentioned in my article on Brassicas). These side-shoots are really nice to eat! Here are some pics...

Endive bolting
Bolted endive re-sprouting
I usually grow a variety of different types of lettuce -- some Butterhead, some Cos, some Iceberg, some "Cut-and-come-again"... My current favourite is Fristina -- a type that looks like an endive but isn't - its leaves are deeply serrated and "frizzy". You can pick the individual leaves, which are soft at the edges but with crunchy stems, or you can pick the whole thing in one go. This lettuce stands well when mature, looks good, tastes nice -- in fact it has everything going for it. At this time I can only show you a picture of an immature Fristina because we have eaten all the mature ones!

Immature Fristina lettuce
Here's an "arty" picture of a red Cos lettuce called Rossa Romana. I originally bought this variety as a "Daddy Salad" ingredient (see above!) for cropping as baby leaves, but I let some grow to maturity and they did well.

Rossa Romana

Young lettuce -- Marvel of Four Seasons

Here's a nice way of using lettuce in a salad:- This one is called a "Wedge salad" which we discovered when eating in a restaurant called "Alfred's" in San Francisco. Use a big crunchy Iceberg lettuce (I had some earlier this year called "Batavian Red" -- despite the name, they were mostly green, with a flush of red). Thoroughly chill the lettuce in your fridge. Remove and discard the outer leaves. Cut the lettuce into wedges (probably a half or quarter of a lettuce per person). Put it into individual serving bowls. Cover it with a thick Blue Cheese dressing (Jane makes a home-made version using Roquefort cheese, which is brilliant). Decorate the bowls with a few halved cherry tomatoes (both red and yellow if you have them). Serve!

Here are some other salad ingredients I have on the go... This is red-veined sorrel. Use only the tiny leaves, because the big ones can be quite tough. If you are thinking of growing this, let me tell you that it grows very slowly, so you have to be really patient...

Red-veined Sorrel
This is a small pot of spinach seedlings (Mikado, F1). Hopefully they will get a lot bigger! I don't grow much spinach, for two reasons:- firstly, it seldom does well in my light sandy soil. It usually bolts before I get much of a crop, despite frequent watering. Secondly, Jane doesn't like it, so it wouldn't get much used in the kitchen. I do enjoy spinach myself though, and my favourite way of eating it is briefly wilted with a very small quantity of water, thoroughly drained (you can squeeze it with your hand or a pair of tongs if you like), and served on toast topped with a soft poached egg.

Spinach seedlings - note the slug damage!
You will see in the above picture that some of the spinach leaves are a bit ragged, due to slug damage. Slugs and snails LOVE most salad ingredients! I have tried many things to deter them, but I have found that the most effective thing is the little blue metaldehyde pellets. These days there are versions of these that don't include metaldehyde, but I'm afraid they are just not as good! I just try to use as few pellets as possible.

Final thoughts on salad...
In this post I have only covered leafy things, but don't let's forget that the best salads often include tomatoes, cucumbers, beetroot, radishes etc -- many of which are covered in some of my other blog posts. Basically, a salad includes whatever you want it to!

1 comment:

  1. I recoomend you try Australian Yellowleaf lettuce from the Real Seed Company. They are brilliant - the tastiest I've ever tried; even large leaves remain very edible. Read their description.



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