My friend Marlis lives in a homemade house tucked into the woods, with an opening to the sun just large enough to grow a garden. Her garden is terraced into the hillside below the house–intensively planted beds overflowing with herbs, flowers, and vegetables. I followed her through the garden, picking leaves, sampling peas, uncovering a thriving carrot patch and rows of ruby-red beets beneath the vines. Marlis gathered ingredients for her favorite spring salad, which she made for our lunch. We ate on her tiny porch at a table overlooking the garden, talking about what a great science experiment having a garden is…. how fun to watch plants grow, to be close among them observing their likes and dislikes, and what a gift it is to spend time in their company. If you get something to eat in the bargain, that’s great!
Marlis’s Spring Salad with Orange-Ginger Vinaigrette
Fill a salad bowl with leaves: lettuce leaves of different shapes and colors, small spinach or chard leaves, arugula, endive…snippets of herbs, tips of pea vines…Grate one small carrot, one gorgeous red beet, and a knob of fresh ginger over the top.
Make the vinaigrette: Use a mortar and pestle to mash 1 garlic clove and a pinch of kosher salt to a paste. Put the garlic paste in a bowl with 5 Tbs fresh orange juice and1 Tbs fresh lime juice; let it sit 5 to 10 minutes. Whisk in 1 tsp chipotle chile in adobo, 1 tsp grated ginger, 1/2 tsp orange zest, 1 tsp white wine or cider vinegar, and 4 to 5 Tbs extra virgin olive oil. Add salt and black pepper to taste.
Pour the marinade over the salad. Toss gently. Sprinkle the top with toasted sunflower and pumpkin seeds.
This vinaigrette would be a perfect dressing for a variety of steamed vegetables: beets, carrots, cauliflower, asparagus, snow peas, zucchini…Serve them on top of a bed of spicy salad greens, perhaps tossed with buckwheat or rice noodles.
Snap Pea and Carrot Salad with Scallions
Spring vegetables are sweet and tender enough to eat raw, but cooking them just a little allows them to meld with the flavors of a dressing all the better.
Prepare the vegetables: Cut 3 or 4 young carrots into thin matchsticks about 3 inches long. Trim and cut 1/2 lb snap peas in half diagonally. Blanch the carrots and snap peas 1 minute in salted boiling water. Scoop them out and rinse briefly with cold water to cool. Drain in a colander or salad spinner.
Thinly slice the white and tender green portion of 4 or 5 scallions. Finely chop a fresh jalapeno or serrano pepper. Coarsely chop 1/2 cup flat leaf parsley, 1/2 cup cilantro, 1/4 cup chives, and 1/4 cup mint leaves.
Make the vinaigrette: Use a mortar and pestle to mash 1 garlic clove and a pinch of kosher salt to a smooth paste. Stir the paste together with 2 Tbs fresh lemon or lime juice and 1 Tbs rice or white wine vinegar. Add 1/2 tsp lemon or lime zest, 1 tsp minced fresh ginger, a pinch cayenne (or 6-8 toasted and ground Szechuan peppercorns). Let the mixture sit 5 to 10 minutes, then whisk in 3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil and 1 Tbs toasted sesame oil.
Combine the carrots, peas, scallions, and jalapeno in a salad bowl. Toss with half the dressing and set aside 15 minutes to let the vegetables absorb the flavors.
Just before serving, toss the vegetables with the fresh herbs and season with salt. Drizzle on the reserved vinaigrette, toss, and taste for seasoning. Add more salt, lime juice, or vinegar to taste.
Zucchini Salad with Red Onion and Arugula
Use the youngest, freshest zucchini you can find. Slice 4 or 5 small zucchini (about 3/4 to 1 pound) diagonally into very thin (1/16-inch thick) ovals. Sprinkle the squash with kosher salt and place in a colander. Slice a small red onion into very thin rounds. Separate the rings and soak them in cold water.
Prepare the herbs: Chop or tear young arugula leaves to make about 3 cups. Roughly chop a handful of sorrel leaves, 1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, 1/4 cup cilantro leaves, 1/4 cup chives, and 1/4 cup mint leaves. Mix the herbs together with 1 Tbs capers (rinsed and chopped if large).
Make vinaigrette: Mash a garlic clove with a pinch of kosher salt to make a smooth paste. Put the paste into a bowl with 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice and 1/2 tsp lemon zest. Let it sit 5 to 10 minutes, then whisk in 5 Tbs extra virgin olive oil and 1/2 tsp curry powder.
Assemble the salad: Taste the zucchini; it should taste seasoned, but not too salty. Drain the onions and pat dry with a towel. Toss the vegetables with 1/2 the vinaigrette. Toss them again with the herbs and the remaining dressing. Taste the salad and adjust the seasoning; add salt, pepper, lemon juice, or curry powder if needed. Serve the salad on a large platter, topped with chickpeas and a sprinkling of cayenne or Aleppo pepper.
Slices of avocado would be most welcome.