A journey ends, another begins. The garden is a continuous wheel, slowly turning. We try to keep up. Sometimes we lope ahead. Sometimes we simply rejoice at what springs from the soil, what our little partnership with nature has produced.
Pardon me if I sound ridiculously emotional about our salad greens. But it has been so long, it seems. Sure, if I had really tried–tried very hard–I probably could have managed to grow some salad during the hot, hot summer here in the District of Columbia. But I did not. Instead, I put this off until fall, sowing my lettuce seeds barely a month ago.
Last night we harvested the greens and made our first salad of the season. Who knew that leaf lettuce could bring such joy! It was like coming home after a long, hard journey, like removing the cast from a broken limb, like walking again after being too long prone.
Can I tell you how good it feels to be making vinaigrette again after such a long drought, the gladness of seeing an emulsion form at the end of my whisk?
I know, it sounds absurd. But I am suddenly stricken by the unbearable lightness of fall.
In fact, there was more to this salad than just a mix of leaf lettuces. The mizuna I planted in seed cells in early August was more than ready, as were the Red Giant mustard greens that likewise were seeded around that time. We like a zesty salad. Mizuna and mustard leaves, when they are small, bring delicious heat. For peppery spice, I throw in some fresh arugula as well. I scattered some arugula seeds where we had finally removed our Italian squash September 7. It is now harvestable as well.
Imagine, everything growing on schedule!
Another green I especially like is Tokyo Bekana, a Japanese version of a Chinese cabbage that comes up like a pale yellow lettuce. For some reason, I always seem to be short of seeds.
The vinaigrette is easy. Into a teaspoon of Dijon mustard at the bottom of a large mixing bowl sprinkle a pinch of coarse salt, then pour a tablespoon of white wine vinegar (or the vinegar you like best) and whisk together. Add a generous grind of black pepper, then a drop of extra-virgin olive oil. Whisk vigorously until the emulsion forms, wherein the oil is completely incorported. The mustard helps with the binding. Continue adding olive oil a tablespoon at a time until you’ve incorported three or four tablespoons and the vinaigrette has thickened. Usually I add a bit of sugar (or honey, or stevia–pick a sweetener) to soften the tartness. If it seems too mustardy, simply add more vinegar or lemon juice, followed by more olive oil.
I recommend using your very best olive oil for this. And don’t be afraid to add more if your dressing seems too assertive. Additional oil always helps soften the flavors.
Toss the lettuce with just enough vinaigrette to coat. Last night, we added slices of honeycrisp apples to the salad and used it as an underlayment for pan-seared sockeye salmon from Alaska. As you might imagine, it’s hard to get enough of that. This morning, I think I will be making salad again and topping it with fried eggs. Truly, this is a time for celebration.