Salad leaves

I know! Screw the recipe books and complicated preparation of expensive ingredients: let’s get some leaves and put them in a bowl!  And eat them! Bear with me. I know it sounds crazy but it might just work!

Of all the things I eat, it’s fair to say that salad is one of the less exciting. There’s no great mystery, no magical transformation of ingredients into something thrillingly more than the sum of their parts. Just the picking and eating of some leaves.

And yet. Sometimes even ol’ Drooling can tire of fois gras. Occasionally the thought of oysters rockerfeller again is a bit much. Yes, sometimes the simple taste of a bowl of salad leaves lightly dressed is just right.

This is why several of my vegetable beds are given over to assorted lettuces and leaves. Last summer it was an unexpected success, allowing us to have a daily salad for almost nine months of the year. This was aided by salad guru Charles Dowding recommending some varieties that are particularly hardy in the cooler months.

This year things are off to a good start, although I haven’t quite got the succession planning bit right. The salad in the photo above is on the verge of bolting, but the next batch are only about 1cm high. Might be having slightly smaller portions of salad for a few weeks.

It’s definitely worth growing and it’s one of those veggies that taste massively different when home-grown. I know I’m going to sound like every other gardening bore, but you really can tell the difference. Really! The leaves are crisper and fresh-tasting, although they do tend to wilt a tad quicker than shop-bought lettuce.

I found this out to my cost when attempting to be neighbourly. I generously took a bag of salad leaves over to a friend as a thank you for some forgotten favour. Having picked the gorgeous leaves and tossed them in a bag an hour or two previously I proudly opened said bag to display the garden delights to our neighbour.

She smiled a polite smile, well, more of a wince really, as we both looked in the bag. Hurt by this less-than-effusive reaction, I followed her ungrateful gaze. Dear reader, if I had ironed the salad leaves before placing them in the bag they would have looked more appetising.

Still, if you eat them a little sooner than that after picking them, dressed with a little vinaigrette, you can’t go too far wrong.

Vinaigrette recipe

It’s over-egging it a touch to call this a recipe, but here you go…

8 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp vinegar (red of white wine vinegar works, balsamic is good. Malt vinegar not so much)

1 tsp mustard

That’s the basic vinaigrette. Whizz it all up in a cup with a fork and there you go. Add in other stuff as you fancy – citrus tastes are good (lemon / lime / orange juice), honey adds a sweeter taste and thicker texture, a teaspoon of marmalade is interesting. Try sesame or chilli oil instead of olive. I could go on for hours, but you probably get the picture.

The other joy is that you really can’t go wrong with this. If you get the proportions wrong and it tastes a little oily / tart etc then just add some more of the other ingredients until you get it right. You may end up with too much for tonight’s salad, but it lasts for ages so it won’t go to waste.

Happy tossing…

On the ipod while whisking: MC Solaar / T’inquiete. French rap. Two words you don’t often see next to each other. Some might say there’s a good reason for that. Moi, je dis “porquoi pas?”