About this series
"What do I do with ...?" is an occasional series exploring how to prepare lesser-known foods. Next up: Emu eggs. If yo uhave suggestions for how to prepare emu eggs — or if you have a suggestion for a future food to feature in the series — e-mail Sarah Henning at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 832-7187.
Julie Waters of Wakarusa Valley Farm loves to mix her baby salad greens with fruits and vegetables, including peppers, tomatoes, oranges, avocados, kiwi, papaya, mangoes peaches and apples. Jill Elmers of Moon on the Meadow adds dried cranberries and crumbled feta. At most, both suggest a light vinaigrette made from balsamic vinegar and olive oil.
What is it?
Spring or baby greens are a mix of early greens that may include varieties of baby spinach, chard, collard greens, mustard greens, kale, arugula, chervil, chicory, kyona, tat soi and mizuna. Season: Mid-April to early June; the greens also may be available locally in early fall. Nutrition: High in vitamins A and C, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, calcium and fiber. How to store: Put a paper towel in the bag with the greens to absorb some of the excess moisture that can make the leaves wilt. Properly stored, locally grown mix should last more than a week. Mix from non-local growers may not last as long.
Iceberg lettuce: So familiar, so ubiquitous ... so anemic.
For many Americans, iceberg is the salad norm. In restaurants and grocery stores alike, it is there, looming, smothered in Thousand Island dressing, hosting a few shredded carrots and maybe a sliced tomato or two.
But go to the Lawrence Farmers’ Market’s grand opening this weekend looking for the familiar lettuce, and you’re likely to be out of luck. Instead of the near-colorless iceberg of familiarity, you’re more likely to come across an array of delicate spring greens — salad mixes where light greens mingle with forest greens, greens with scarlet veins and greens that aren’t green at all but dark purple.
They’re so beautiful, yet so unfamiliar. You may find yourself hovering near the edge of a stall, drawn in by the beauty, yet repulsed by the fear, asking yourself, “What do I do with ... that?”
In our new series, we’ll answer that very question on an array of foods — foods that you may have been too intimidated to try, or brave enough to buy ... only to let it rot in your fridge before you figured out what the heck to do with it.
First up, those delicate, beautiful baby greens of spring.
What it is
The greens growing in a feathered row at Jill Elmers’ East Lawrence farm, Moon on the Meadow, are salad mix. But you won’t find lettuce here.
“It’s made up of mustard and kale and four different Asian greens,” says Elmers, who says the Asian greens include mizuna, tat soi and kyona. “Sometimes, we’ll put radishes in there for the leaves, and ... we’ll put beet seeds in there for the leaves. And so what I do, I mix all those seeds together first, and then I plant it all at the same time.”
The mix that Julie Waters of Wakarusa Valley Farm grows along with partner Mark Lumpe includes an even larger variety, though the precise mix varies.
“Generally we like the mix to have a variety of flavors,” Waters says. “Mild flavors from the lettuce, spinach, chard, collards, kale; spicy flavor from the mustard greens and/or arugula; sometimes a peppery flavor from the chervil and some of a bitter flavor from the chicory.”
The greens sprout up fast during their spring growing period, which runs from mid-April through the beginning of June. The mix can be harvested from mid-April until the weather turns too hot, usually the first week of June.
“The salad mix, it takes about three weeks in decent weather to go from planting to cutting,” Elmers says. “It gets watered two to three times per day. Whenever it dries out, it gets watered. And then you cut it kind of like a haircut. I mean, you just grab a piece and you just take the scissors and you just cut through it. It’s kind of fun.”
How to prepare it
So what do those beautiful greens taste like? In a word, flavorful.
“Personally, I like them undressed, and I like to eat them with chopped oranges, tomatoes, red peppers and avocados. I add different combinations of chopped fruits and vegetables depending on what is in season, and I don’t add out-of-season additions,” says Waters, who also enjoys the greens stuffed in a pita. “Other fruits I might add include papaya, kiwi, mangos, peaches and apples. People at work say I eat the most beautiful salads.”
Elmers goes the basic route with her greens, also preferring to skip dressing most of the time. She says one of the easiest ways to ruin spring greens is to drown them in dressing.
“I like my salad mix with just some dried fruit on top and I eat it plain. If I do do a salad dressing, I just mix balsamic vinegar and olive oil together and go with that,” she says. “You don’t want to heavy it down with a thick ranch or something like that, because you’ll lose the flavor of the salad.”
Afraid of salad without the prospect of dressing? Elmers says it never hurts to ask a local producer for a little taste before you buy.
“I think that they like the fact that it has flavor and it looks a little bit different, and so you have that hesitation for trying something that looks kind of funky,” Elmers says. “You know, every once and a while, I’ll get somebody to taste it and be like, ‘ewwww,’ but not very often, and those are the people who like iceberg lettuce.”