Summertime is garden time. I'm still a novice grower, but I just love the satisfaction of planting seeds and watching them grow. And there's nothing like the taste of freshly picked produce. Talk about eating local! Of course gardening (like most rewarding things) does take work. Weeding is one of the big garden chores that comes to mind. Last year when I did get around to weeding, I did what most people do - indiscriminately yank out anything that I didn't plant. That all changed this year....
Shortly after those early summer heat waves we got in Chicago this year, my garden was carpeted with unexpected greenery. When I looked more closely I noticed that most of these "weeds" were in fact edible. Purslane, lamb's quarters and sour grass are the three most prominent naturally occurring plants in my garden (purslane is even growing out of the cracks between the bricks in my patio!). I initially learned about these wild edibles a few years back when Nance Klehm led an urban forage for some of our summer campers. I fell in love with sour grass right away. It looks like heart-shaped clover with tiny yellow flowers. It's juicy, sweet, and sour - almost like candy. I introduced it to my son (who does not eat any leafy greens at all) and he loves it! Just like cooking, foraging is a great way to connect kids to their food. They are more likely to want to eat real food when there's a hook. Hunting for your food in nature (whether a park, your yard or a forest) is way more exciting than just getting your food handed to you on a plate. Of course, you should always make sure you know what you're picking (there are many toxic plants out there too).
Even after my guided forage with Nance, I'll admit that I thought of most edible "weeds" as things you could eat - not necessarily things you would want to eat. Then this year I started seeing purslane and lamb's quarters at the farmers markets. And here I am having more in my garden than I know what to do with - without any effort on my part and for free! Not only are these greens tasty, they are packed with nutrients. Purslane is a fantastic source of omega 3s and rich in many vitamins and minerals (like vitamin A and magnesium). Lamb's quarters is also known as wild spinach and actually beats out spinach in many nutrients (like calcium, vitamin B2 and fiber). Sour grass has a ton of vitamin C.
From now on, I'm not weeding. I'm harvesting delicious and nutritious foods growing wild right in my own backyard.
For this salad, I decided to use about an equal mix of cultivated greens (arugula and mizuna) and the bonus wild edibles (purslane, lamb's quarters and sour grass). As with most greens, you'll want to remove the larger tough stems (the smaller, more tender stems can stay). Measure or weigh them after trimming. I ended up using 1 oz each of purslane, lamb's quarters, arugula and mizuna, and 1/2 oz of sour grass. Make sure to let your greens dry completely after washing or you'll end up watering down your dressing.
Speaking of dressing, I opted for a simple lemon vinaigrette. It's bright and doesn't overpower the salad. Many dressing recipes use a 2:1 or even 3:1 oil to acid ratio. I went with equal parts oil and lemon juice. A touch of honey keeps the dressing from being too tart. At The Kids' Table, we recently switched from olive oil to Century Sun Oil's sunflower oil - and haven't look back even for a second! They grow the sunflowers and press the seeds just a few hours away in Wisconsin.
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 T fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 T sunflower oil
1/2 tsp honey
1/8 tsp salt (plus more to taste)
4 1/2 oz washed & trimmed greens (about 4 1/2 packed cups)
1 small cucumber
3 French breakfast radishes
1 cup croutons (see note below for making your own)
1-2 oz coarsely shredded Parmesan or Pecorino Romano (or similar hard, salty cheese)
In a small jar or bowl, combine garlic, sunflower oil, lemon juice, honey and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Whisk well with a small whisk or fork to emulsify. Set aside.
Put greens in a salad bowl.
Cut cucumber in half lengthwise. If seeds are large, scoop out seeds and discard (otherwise, leave seeds in). Cut cucumbers into half moon slices about 1/8-inch thick. Thinly slice radishes. Coarsely chop chives. Add each prepped ingredient to salad bowl as you go.
Give dressing another whisk (or more if it has separated). Pour dressing over salad. Toss to evenly coat. Top salad with croutons and cheese. Toss again to combine. Enjoy!
Makes 4 servings
NOTE - Make your own Croutons! All you need is bread (slightly stale bread is best), oil and salt. Stale crusty bread is our first choice. A close second are those pesky sandwich bread ends (they may not make great sandwiches, but they make fabulous croutons!). Cut or tear bread into small cubes. Heat a pan over medium high heat. Add enough oil to lightly coat bottom (again, we use sunflower oil - it's great for dressings and for cooking). Add bread cubes and toss to coat bread with oil. Sprinkle a few pinches of salt over bread cubes and toss again. Cook, stirring often, until bread cubes are lightly browned and toasty (about 5-8 minutes). Transfer to a plate to cool.