Spring has sprung! And that calls for a celebration. It’s been a such a long tough winter for so many of us, we deserve some sun, some fresh greens, and some pretty flowers. I tossed all that together in a salad bowl for us, let’s eat!
I bought the purple kale at one of our local farmer’s markets. In Los Angeles the markets run year round, but even in cold parts of the country farmer’s markets are surprisingly hardy, going late into the season and starting early. When we last lived in new Hampshire the minute the summer market ended, the winter market started up, in the gymnasium of a local high school. My daughter lives in Madison Wisconsin, and they have the largest farmer’s market in the country. She still gets her csa boxes (‘community supported agriculture’ boxes of produce from local farmers) every week. So cold weather doesn’t necessarily mean you have to forgo the luxury of local produce – do a little digging around and find out where yours is. A new market just started up near us that sets up once a week right outside the main doors of one of our malls, on Tuesday evenings… how brilliant is that? They catch all the shoppers who haven’t had a chance to think about dinner.
I’m trying to get more deep leafy greens in my diet, and this purple kale called to me. Every single leaf has a different purple and green pattern, it’s just unbelievable.
I’m pretty persnickety when it comes to salads. Unless they’re serving as a main course, I like to focus on the greens themselves. I don’t like to add nuts, or cheese, or lots of heavy stuff like that. For me, the whole purpose of a salad is to refresh, and it’s just not refreshing if it’s loaded with candied nuts, blue cheese, and croutons. But that’s just me. My husband loads his salads down with so much ‘stuff’ there’s no room for the lettuce! I did make one exception in this salad, I threw in some sunflower seeds or pepitas. I like the little bit of crunch they give, and I think they work really well with kale.
This is more of an inspiration than a recipe, but the takeaway is this: you can make a simple green salad extra special by adding in lots of fresh herbs. And I mean lots, not just a sprinkle… I’m talking about a about a ratio of about 4 to 1 lettuce to herbs. I used thyme, mint, and fresh basil, in both the green and the purple ‘Amethyst’ varieties. If you garnish it all with a few edible flowers, even better. The herbs add a burst of flavor in every bite, and the flowers make it special.
The other takeaway is that freshness counts. Lots of herbs and even edible flowers come in those little plastic clam-shell containers, and that’s great, but it’s even better if you have a backyard or a patio to grow a few herbs and edible flowers there, so you can snip them fresh. Even if you have a black thumb and they don’t survive that long, it will be more than cost effective. If you can’t grow it yourself, try the basil that comes rooted in soil, it lasts so much longer that way and it’s worth the little bit of extra cost. There is no point in garnishing a dish with a wilted herb or a less than perfect blossom, it kind of defeats the whole purpose. I snip them, give them a quick rinse, and pop them on the salad at the last minute. I have been known to resort to a walk around the block to gather a few choice blossoms for garnishing a special dish. Even nice fresh dandelions will do in a pinch! (Just make sure you pick them from a spot where you know they are clean and un-sprayed.) And just to be clear, I’m not claiming that edible flowers are the most fantastic tasting things in the world…I use them mostly for their looks, and to be perfectly honest I usually end up setting them aside on my plate. There’s nothing wrong with that.
The nice thing about kale, besides the fact that it’s so healthy, is that it stands up to dressings. It keeps its crunch a good long while. HINT: if you want to bring your salad to the table fresh and pretty, put the dressing in the bottom of the bowl before you add the greens. When you are ready to serve, toss well. I made a fresh tangerine poppy seed vinaigrette which I think is appropriate for the first day of spring. I kinda stole it from my friend Mary.
The downside to that hearty quality is that kale can be a little tough. Be sure to remove the entire stem and spine from your leaves, and I like to cut or shred them fairly finely. For the photos here I left my leaves a little larger than I would ordinarily do. Some people like to ‘massage’ their kale, which is just what it sounds like, you put it in a bowl with some dressing and rub it around to soften it and encourage it to absorb some of the dressing. I don’t like food that is ‘handled’ too much before it gets to my plate, even if it’s my own hands — but go for it if you like. And anyway I would much rather have a lettuce with some body to it than those spring mix lettuces that flatten out to a soggy pancake the minute you add the dressing!
- 1 bunch kale, I used purple kale
- fresh basil leaves, both green and purple varieties
- fresh sprigs of thyme
- fresh mint leaves
- fresh parsley
- 1/2 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced
- 2-3 Tbsp sunflower or pepita seeds
- edible flowers like pansies for garnish
- juice of 1 big tangerine
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 Tsp mustard
- 1 tsp honey
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- 1 Tbsp poppy seeds
- salt to taste
- Wash your kale really well, and then trim the tough stems off. Remove the spines of each leaf, too. Chop or shred the kale and add it to a large wide salad bowl.
- Toss the herbs, onions, and seeds in, I like to keep to about a 4 to 1 ratio of greens to herbs. Go heavy on the basil.
- Toss the salad with the dressing, and then scatter the flowers on top for garnish.
- To make the dressing, put the ingredients in a jar, screw on the cap, and give a good shake. Taste it before using to adjust any of the ingredients.
The dressing is slightly adapted from my friend Mary at Barefeet in the Kitchen
Here’s to Spring!