Texas Salad Garden-William D Adams © 2013.
Finally a little relief from the heat and it’s time for cool season planting and growing my own salads. Actually I could have started earlier but cleaning out the spring garden debris was hard enough. Fortunately, except for a few freeze episodes, this can be a winter- long event. To ensure a continuous harvest, plant a few rows at a time and plant more every two weeks. Most fall crops develop from small seeds, so lightly cover the seed or just rake it into a well prepared bed and sprinkle daily to ensure good germination. Also note that birds, especially English Sparrows, love tender fall seedlings. Most years we have to cover our beds with floating row cover (available at Arbor Gate) supported with hoops made from black poly irrigation tubing to protect seedlings until they grow large enough to survive the bird pecks.
Spread compost and fertilizer “like you mean it”—cool season crops are heavy feeders. We use twelve of more cubic yards of mushroom compost on the gardens each year and ten or more 50 pound bags of Arbor Gate 4-3-3 +calcium organic fertilizer. Some crops get a little soluble fertilizer for extra punch.
Lettuce—it all grows well in our cool season gardens. You can even grow a head lettuce or two to prove you can, but a thirty-foot row that matures all at once is hard to consume fresh, and if you freeze it, you’ll get green slime. Romaine is our favorite lettuce but leaf lettuce is great, too, for its color and variety.
Miscellaneous Greens—it’s easy to get carried away here, so go with the ones you may have tried at fine restaurants—spinach, mache (Corn Salad), minutina, mizuna, arugula, endive, radicchio (with radicchio it is best to seed and thin to 12 inches—transplants don’t always head). A mesclun mix of greens can do it all but the arugula that is usually included in these mixes is a bully and often takes over.
Asian Greens including Chinese cabbage, red or purple mustard, Komatsuna tendergreens, Tatsoi and baby Pac Choi add some flair.
Radishes punctuate a salad and they mature in about thirty days. Let the youngsters help—they might actually eat something out of the garden. Red, white, bi-color, pink—they all grow fast and tasty. They do demand thinning—one to two inches apart within days after germination. Big Asian radishes like daikon demand more time and space but one can feed a salad crazed family for a week. You may only need 3-4 seeds per year.
Celery is relatively easy to grow in the cool season and one or two plants is enough for most families because you only harvest a few stems as you need them. There’s also a cutting celery that offers the flavor without the large stems.
Chard is a mild, tasty and beautiful form of beet greens. The variety ‘Bright Lights’ has yellow, red or pink stems (petioles)—it’s almost too pretty to eat. Plant it in the flower beds and the Homeowner’s Association will never suspect you have a forbidden vegetable garden in your landscape. For the table we really like an Italian variety ‘Verde da Taglio’ (seeds are available at Arbor Gate). It features small stems and mild green leaves that often produce year ‘round. Chard is also one of the mildest cooked greens.
Carrots would seem a likely addition to the salad garden, and if you can concentrate on varieties touted as super sweet or unusual like the purple carrots, I would agree. However grocery store carrots aren’t that bad. So, if you have the room and raised beds or a sandy soil that is rich with organic matter and fertilizer—plant some just to show off. Carrots also need thinning but if they’re not too thick-after an initial thinning to ½ inch apart- you can get by harvesting baby carrots and allowing the rest to mature.
Kohlrabi and turnips have a similar flavor although kohlrabi is a bit sweeter and milder in my opinion. You can use the roots/swollen stems or greens of both fresh in salads but they are “set-you-free” good when cooked with onions, bacon, maybe a little hot pepper plus a generous splash of cider or balsamic vinegar—finally adding salt and pepper to taste. Cooking greens deserves an entire blog!
Sugar Snap and Snow peas are delicious in salads and oh so expensive at the store. They occasionally succumb to a hard freeze but they are worth the effort.
Stuff you will need to buy or prepare might include meat treats, hard cooked eggs, cheese, olives (love an olive bar), pickled peppers, artichoke hearts and tomatoes (get the small tasty ones in plastic containers). If it excited your taste buds when you glanced over the salad bar at your favorite steak house then you probably need it for your salad. Don’t buy everything at once, you’ll end up throwing some away and feeling guilty or you will have to open a “soup and salad kitchen” for the formerly wealthy.
Too often salads are a form of diet punishment. How can anyone learn to love punishment? If you’re tempted to respond to this question—please don’t.
Salad dressings are the key to salad lust. Make your own—it’s not that hard. Buy a mini-blender or small food processor and make small batches. “Homemades” are only good for a week or so in the fridge and if you have to throw out a big batch you’ll be back on the bottle (bottle dressings, that is).
Balsamic Honey Vinaigrette
(Honey Ridge Farms Balsamic Honey Vinegar)
• ¼ cup shallots, chopped (mild Texas Sweet onions will work in a pinch)
• ½ tsp. minced garlic
• ¾ tsp. kosher salt
• ¼ tsp. fresh ground black pepper
• 1 Tbsp. whole grain mustard
• 1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
• ¼ cup Balsamic Honey Vinegar
• ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil or pecan oil.
Whisk first seven ingredients together. While still whisking, slowly add olive or pecan oil. Toss with salad greens.
Honey Ridge Farms products and pecan oil are available at Arbor Gate Nursery.
Cilantro Jalapeño Dipping Sauce/Salad Dressing
• 16 oz. sour cream
• 4 Tbsp. pickled jalapeños**
• 2 Tbsp. liquid from jalapeño jar*
• ½ cup chopped cilantro
• ½ cup mayonnaise
For a salad dressing, try ½ to 1 cup of buttermilk instead of mayonnaise. If necessary, add a tablespoon at a time of mayo to thicken, pulse blender and check consistency.
*2 Tbsp. of cider vinegar should substitute for the juice if you use canned or fresh jalapeños rather than the pickled-in-a-jar kind.
**Mild pickled jalapenos are available if you have wooses at the table. If you decide to use your own freshly grown jalapenos, remember the hot stuff (capsaicin) is in the cross walls (placenta) and removing most of placenta/seeds will tone down heat in the final product. You still need the liquid from the jalapenos or cider vinegar.
Now all you need is some crusty, home baked artisan bread (the frozen kind is adequate) and your meal is complete. Add a hearty bowl of soup to satisfy even the big eaters in the family and before you know it you will have accepted a new culinary love in your life. Over time you may find salads give you a weight control advantage but for now it’s enough that we start with a goal to “learn to love a salad”.