Urban Homestead: Salad Greens

One advantage to growing your food is that you can see and experiment with the whole process. Case in point: salad greens. Most of us grew up with a base of Iceberg lettuce, maybe with shredded carrot and purple cabbage for color; the mix is still the standard at diners, chain restaurants, salad bars, and even the pre-packaged, fake-fresh “bags-o-salad” available at most grocery stores. Which is why many people consider salads a boring side dish they subject themselves to because it’s “healthy.” But the whole concept of salad should revolve around freshness, color, and a variety of textures, flavors, and juxtapositions. When you have enough pots or patches of young, tender leafy things growing in the back yard, salads can be a refreshing, healthy, and beautiful improvisation.

Starting your own spring mix or mesclun blend is easy, thanks to seed packages geared toward adding variety, color, and texture to your garden as much as your salad bowl. Mixed red, green, and variegated lettuces are easy to start in pots or directly in the ground, along with tender spinach, chard, young beet greens (purples, actually) and the wide world of chicories: radicchio, frisée, curly endive (escarole), and other varieties.

Radicchio needs a winter frost for the classic purple and white heads, but tender spring-sown greens add sturdy texture and a slightly bitter, peppery bite to salads. The larger, deep green leaves are excellent chopped into creamy risottos, or blanched and wrapped around meat or rice fillings, and simmered in a tomato sauce.

Arugula grows year-round for a sweet, peppery kick: plant liberally and often in different areas of the yard, and let a few plants go to seed. If you can keep the birds from stripping off all the seedpods, you’ll have enough for the rest of the year.

For substance, add garden fresh cucumbers, sweet peppers, and baby radishes, or fresh herbs like parsley, basil, dill, and marjoram, all of which take to the San Antonio climate fairly well. For the ultimate spring flourish, add bright nasturtium blossoms or other edible flowers like pansies, violas, or oxalis blooms. If you haven’t planted them, don’t worry, they’re fairly easy to come by in the supermarket, look for the fresh herbs in the produce section and your floral salad friends shouldn’t be too far away.

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