Saturday, January 23, 2010

A Brief History of Salad

Here is a festive basketful of salad fixings:

Black Seeded Simpson lettuce
Bloomsdale spinach
Bronze Arrowhead lettuce
Forellenschluss lettuce
Gigante d'Inverno (giant of winter) spinach
Miner's lettuce
Red Lollo Antago lettuce

We have gotten addicted to the heady combination of different textures, colors, and flavors in this rich assortment of raw greens. Mixed with a little finely chopped tomato, drizzled with good olive oil and a few drops of basalmic vinegar, and sprinkled with coarsely grated Parmesan or a bit of crumbled goat cheese -- it becomes a feast in a bowl. We eat it almost every night. There are lots of other ways to compose a salad, of course, but that particular combination seems perfect. The only limitation is the capacity of the lettuce and spinach plants to put out new leaves fast enough to keep up with our capacity to consume them.

As a child of the fifties, I grew up eating the standard salad of the times: a wedge of iceberg lettuce with some kind of pinkish bottled dressing poured over it. Then, newly emigrated to California just as the various revolutions of the sixties were getting started, I recall being amazed by the simple salads of romaine lettuce and bright red cherry tomatoes my new friends were preparing. I had never seen, or tasted, such things. It took no time at all to join in wholeheartedly in the culinary experimentation going on on all sides.

Now, California cuisine is standard fare everywhere and our nightly homegrown combo is actually pretty ordinary. After all, there's no radicchio, frisee, endive, mache, baby beet greens, mizuna, or mesclun mix. There aren't any edible blossoms.

Note to self: Harvest the lone calendula blossom and use the petals to jazz up the salad.

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