The foraging was in my backyard! To balance all the confit I’ve been eating, I had a keen yearning for a serious salad for this week’s Dark Days Challenge meal. Now, I’m not talking about insipid heads of butter lettuce, or those pointless (sorry, fans) bags of mesclun greens that all taste the same, even though they look to be different species. I’m talking about salad that bites back.
We had two — TWO!! — sunny days this week, so I did a bit of gardening between deadlines, pruning the cane berries and pulling back the mulch in some areas to allow for little chives and lovage and strawberry babies. But I was really on the lookout for salad possibilities. I learned in my Master Gardener training that one can eat our first ubiquitous early spring weed, the little Western bittercress, now making itself known in bare patches of my garden. I pulled some of the largest ones, then found some tender dandelion greens (the second ubiquitous early spring weed), tore them up, and added them to the mix.
I love eating weeds. It makes me feel powerful!
But I realized I had cultivated salad greens still in the garden, too. The arugula is doing wonderfully, all the better for the cold wet weather, so I snipped off some of those leaves for the base of the salad. I had given up on the plants cozied up to my peas because they were unbearably spicy and hot in summer’s dog days, but they have actually mellowed and become fresher over the course of the winter, weathering our cold snaps with gusto.
And my wild bronze fennel is up in two corners of the yard, sending out gorgeous feathery fronds that are sweet, fresh, and slightly licorice-y, so I sacrificed a few to the salad bowl.
I still have storage apples (Melrose, I believe) in the back from Riverbend Farms, so I added a couple to the salad, plus some delicious new Rogue Creamery cheese, Brutal Blue, and walnuts from Hentze Farm. The lily still needed to be gilded, clearly, so I melted a couple of tablespoons of frozen homemade quince paste and whisked it into a vinaigrette made of (non-local) olive oil and my accidentally brilliant* Concord grape and star anise vinegar. Amazing. It was like eating spring.
* I wanted to make local raisins this year, but I realized too late that one shouldn’t dry tiny Concords (pictured on left) without taking out the seeds, because those seeds are big and hard, and they stick like glue to the dried grape. So I took the lot, added a whole star anise, and covered everything in white wine vinegar. Four months later, it’s incredibly delicious — better than the best berry vinegar because of the “foxy” flavor of the Concord grape, with just the right amount of spicy depth from the star anise. I’ll make this one from now on.