This journal entry, we invited a local Nyack Chef, Jolie Lampkin, who purchases our produce for her clients (and herself!) to write about what is abundant at the moment: spring lettuces. Jolie is singlehandedly able to consume the entire contents of a large bag of our salad greens in a couple days (no small feat!) so we think she's the perfect author for this article on lettuces. A gardener and veggie-lover, her focus is using local and sustainably grown ingredients as inspiration to create meals that are healthy, imaginative, and delicious. She specializes in fresh, seasonal cooking for busy families and intimate multi-course dinner parties for special occasions....
"Spring is here at last, bringing with it the first green leaves, those wild pinks and yellows of daffodils and tulips, that heady scent of lilacs. We venture outside, half-delirious, spring-dizzy, our tender winter arms and legs like white shoots soaking up the sun on those first warm days. It's with this change in the weather that I start to crave salad greens. Goodbye, savory stews of winter, long-simmering pots of soup! Now's the moment for something really fresh-tasting and light.
In times not so long ago, our farmer ancestors survived the long winters by storing hardy fall fruits and vegetables in underground root cellars (think cabbages, root vegetables, onions and apples), and by canning the more perishable fruits and vegetables. Beans and grains were dried, to be made into nourishing soups and ground for loaves of bread; meats and cheeses were preserved by salting. Conspicuously absent from the winter diet, however: fresh greens. So it's no wonder that after a winter of eating all that heavy food, people were thrilled by the appearance of the first early spring greens. They'd eat them as salad, as we do now, but also concoct spring "tonics", thought to help purify the body. Tonics might include a bit of whatever was around--dandelion, nettle, watercress, and violet leaves--all valuable sources of many of the vitamins and minerals which would have been lacking in the winter diet.
Of course, these days we can eat salad--and pretty much anything we want--year round. Whether we should or not, though, is another thing entirely (is that January tomato anything at all like a July tomato?). But even if you're not eating exclusively seasonal produce, many people do find themselves naturally leaning towards the heartier fare during the fall and winter and lightening up during the spring and summer months. So if, like me, you find yourself scarfing down salad by the bowlful lately, don't be alarmed! This is a good thing--your body is telling you what it needs--and you should listen.
Lucky for us salad-lovers, lettuces are easy to grow, and are actually at their best in cool temperatures. This is because cold weather encourages lettuce to produce more sugars, resulting in much better flavor. Ever tried to grow lettuce in the summer? Not only will it tend to bolt quickly, but it will most likely be more bitter than you'd like. Because of this, it's best to grow it in partial shade during the summer months.
Chives, an early spring arrival, have a great assertive flavor. They're deliciously oniony without being overpowering. Also easy to grow, they are perennials and will come back each spring. They like a lot of sun and will even continue to do well into the early summer months, if you continue to cut them back. Their purple blossoms are also lovely in the garden or as a garnish, if you allow them to go to seed.
Johnny-jump-ups (violas, a cousin of the violet), our guest star, thrive in cool weather as well, but will do fine into the summer if planted in a partly shady area and consistently pinched back. Their blossoms have a delicate, mild flavor and look beautiful in salads. The leaves and blossoms are also very high in vitamin C.
So here's a spin on the idea of spring tonic: a recipe for a simple salad with some of the first flowers of the season, with a dressing that tastes both subtle and intoxicating. It allows the flavors of the lettuces to shine, while truffle oil lends a note of mystery. Arugula's hiding in the mix, with its unexpected peppery bite. Chives give things a little zip. The Johnny-jump-ups are my nod to the violet leaves featured in old-time tonics--and besides, they're just gorgeous".
Spring salad with truffle oil vinaigrette
1T Champagne vinegar
1/4t fresh lemon juice
3T white truffle oil
2T extra-virgin olive oil
salt (I like fleur de sel) and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Hook Mountain Growers lettuce mix with Johnny-jump-ups, washed and spun till very dry in a salad spinner
1T chopped chives
In a small bowl, whisk together the Champagne vinegar and lemon juice. Slowly drizzle in the oil, whisking as you go till the mixture is emulsified. Add the salt and pepper and adjust to taste. Toss a spoonful or two of the vinaigrette around with the greens (you might not need all of it, depending on how much salad you plan to eat--the leaves should be very lightly coated with the vinaigrette), add the chives and serve immediately. If you're a salt fiend like me, you may want to sprinkle a little fleur de sel on top of the dressed salad as well.
For more information on what Jolie offers, you may contact her at email@example.com