Friday, June 6, 2008

What lettuce tastes like

When I lived with my parents in Queens several years back, I got to experience the beauty of living off the land. Being Korean and never fully comprehending what a big patch of grass did for anybody, my parents converted the entire back yard into an edible garden. It wasn't a big yard, maybe 10 x 20 feet total, but they managed to plant a plum tree, a pear tree, and an apple tree amongst the pumpkin patch, lettuces, cucumbers, and perilla. I regret not having appreciated this patch of paradise more at the time because I currently long for a garden of my own.

My mom, having grown up on a farm, knew the ins and outs of composting like the back of her hand, so everything was grown organically. It's one thing to be fed by your mom, but another to be fed with ingredients she raised with love and care from a little seed. When preparing meals, she would often ask me to go pick a bowl of lettuce or cucumbers from the garden, and I can't quite explain the sensation that hand-plucking these tender greens produced in me. On the one hand, it was a feeling of subtle caution because they're living things that require care and respect. But mostly I felt a deep satisfaction, knowing where my food came from and what I was feeding my body with - good stuff that would go into my cells and produce more of who I am.

Jamie Oliver's paradise (he's so charming)

One day I hope to have such space of my own - plot of land, however small it may be, where I can simply step out to grab a handful of pungent greens - a simple salad, a daily meal. To me, there's really nothing better than this, a bowl of hand-picked greens with a small drizzle of good vinaigrette. Each bite is an explosion of flavor, and I get completely lost in it's surprising goodness - an entirely different experience from the salads we know of these days. Even the best organic packaged greens will begin losing their flavors the moment they're picked. By the time we wash them and put them on our plates, they'll have been triple-washed, packaged, and shipped across the country and been sitting for days on the grocery shelves before hitting your salad bowl.

The closest alternative to having a garden in Brooklyn is to hit the farmer's market. Although taking a subway to pick my greens is a far cry from the garden experience, I still feel lucky to have even this. I grab a giant bag of mixed salad greens, which oftentimes include beautiful edible flowers. When the salad craving kicks in during the week, I just toss in some Parmesan cheese, some quick-toasted nuts (hazelnut, walnuts, almonds, etc) and maybe some sliced fruit on top of a heaping mound of greens, and I'm a happy camper for a days and days.

Some tips for a perfect salad:
  • Get yourself the freshest greens as possible. If you have a garden, I envy you...
  • Rinse and dry your greens in a salad spinner as soon as you get home, wrap them in a paper towel and store them in a container. This way, you'll have easy access to a great salad any time during the week with minimal fuss.
  • Keep a stash of various dry ingredients always on hand to throw into the salad at whim: nuts (hazelnuts, walnuts, sliced almonds, pistachios), dried fruits and/or cheeses in the refrigerator, and some homemade croutons in the freezer.
  • As with any salad, a good dressing is essential. I like to make a large batch at the same time that I wash my greens. Below is a recipe that I posted in a previous post, and it's quickly become my recent favorite - it's very clean and refreshing, perfect for a simple summer salad.
Three-citrus vinaigrette
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Zest and juice of 1 orange
Zest and juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon of fresh ginger, rough-cut into small pieces
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon oyster sauce
1 cup grapeseed oil (or other neutral-flavored oil)
1/4 teaspoon salt (or more to taste)
Fresh-ground pepper

Emulsify all ingredients in a blender and season with more salt and pepper as needed. Makes about 2 cups.


Hillary said...

That looks like a great salad...I've been meaning to try farmer's market greens. Now you've convinced me.

industrialpoppy said...

AAhhh, you are so right-there really is nothing like running out to the back to pick your evening meal. And Jamie-what a place he's got there-very inspiring!

Dyselon said...

It's pretty easy to grow some greens even in an apartment, assuming you have a balcony, fire escape, or even sunny windowsill. I've got tomatoes, squash, greens, herbs, beans, and more growing in about 5 ft x 6 in of balcony.

Undercover Cook said...

Hillary, I wish you all the goodness of fresh-picked greens. You are doing yourself a great favor.

Industrialpoppy, sounds like you have a garden of your own? Yes, Jamie... I love how he's chosen to use his success to simplify his life and turn to nature rather than things.

Dyselon, a balcony, a fire escape or even a sunny windowsill would be quite a luxury! I tried growing some herbs in my shady windowsill last year and they were quite unhappy. Someday...

Anonymous said...

these salads look great! such wonderful photos!


White On Rice Couple said...

Thanks for the great video, I like Jaime too!
I love market greens, salads are so much tastier with them!
Your salad is beautiful and perfect for summer!