Saturday, April 26, 2014

An ode to the salad

One of the main things you need to come to terms with when embarking upon a community food/self-sufficiency/local food type journey, is that your ingredients need to dictate the recipe, not the other way 'round. In our culture, we're so used to being able to think about what we want for dinner, then go to a shop and buy everything we need, with no regard for season or local availability. For this reason, a lot of people don't even know what's grown when, in what part of the world.
Seasonal home-grown salad deliciousness, picked 5 minutes before it hits the table.
When you start getting interested in local food and self-sufficiency, one of the first things you learn about is eating seasonally. We've written before about the joys of seasonal eating. We love it. If you try it, I bet you'll love it too.

Of course, it means that there are, at certain times of the year, things you just can't eat. At the moment, for example, I'm pretty much busting for some broccoli and cabbage. But broccoli and cabbage aren't quite ready round these parts just yet. I've got a few more weeks' wait, but I know when the wait is over, the broccoli and cabbage is going to taste oh so sweet, not least of all because I haven't eaten any for some months.

Sometimes, because of seasonal availability, or weird in-between-season gluts or dearths, you'll have a whole bunch of something, or little tiny bits of lots of things, or strange amounts of something else, and you think - what the heck am I going to do with this!? The answer, I've found, to these kind of seasonal-eating conundrums is, invariably, soup and/or salad.
An heirloom tomato salad's gorgeousness is enough incentive for me to grow my own tomatoes.
It's really easy to make a delicious soup or stew from whatever ingredients you have to hand. All year. If you have an on-hand source of home-made stock in your freezer, even better.

Yesterday, for example, Louisa dug up a massive bowl of jerusalem artichokes, which had voluntarily grown themselves in amongst our lemon balm. With 12-hour-cooked chicken broth in the freezer, the answer to our jerusalem artichoke situation was pretty bloody self-evident, and tomorrow we shall be dining on some super-deliciousness.

Likewise for salads. I grew up eating salads consisting of iceberg lettuce, tomato and cucumber. Delicious! While I still have a massive soft spot for iceberg lettuce, I've since learned that it's nigh-on impossible to grow, so have learned to settle for much more eclectic salad ingredients, dictated, at all times, by what's in the garden or the gardens' of our friends and neighbours. 
roasted pepper , parsley and home-pickled 'caper' salad with home-made flat breads and hummous
Kale (I find curly kale best for salad), red-veined dandelion leaves, rocket (grows like a weed!), nasturtium (ditto!), borage, herbs of all kinds and a plethora of self-seeded loose-leaf lettuce varieties all make regular appearances in salads at our place, year-round. 
Mixed leaves, awaiting salad-making
Grated carrot, beetroot, garlic, and chopped tomatoes and celery, green beans, peas, cooked pumpkin and weeds like fat hen and nettle are also added, according to availability. I'm a massive fan of the grated and finely-chopped salad, because I like to have little bit of everything in every fork-ful. Makes it tasty, yo!
grated carrot and beetroot, dandelion, kale, parsley, basil, chopped almonds, sunflower seeds and feta-stuffed bell peppers, grown and made by the lovely Bev. I love the colour!
I also like to add nuts (chopped tamari almonds are a distinct fave), seeds, flowers (borage, nasturtium and calendula are my absolute favourites), olives or other preserved and pickled type things for extra tasty and extra nutrition. 
For dressing, I'm ever-faithful to a bit of lemon and olive oil, though I've recently been thoroughly enjoying ye olde tahini-based dressing, and sometimes a bit of a miso dressing. I'm extremely haphazard with my salad dressings, and will pretty much mix up anything that takes my fancy, with varying degrees of success. But that's the thing: When you're using good ingredients, it's pretty hard to make it taste like absolute crap.

So even if your garden's patchy, or you've brought home a somewhat random selection of ingredients from your local market, rest assured that there's a delicious and nutritious salad or soup in store. Feel free to post your favourite salad dressing recipes or soup combos in the comments. We're always up for suggestions!!

Extra added bonus of growing your own - you make friends. Anyone know what kind of frog this is?


  1. love this. I can't even imagine the joy of finding unexpected jerusalem artichokes in the lemon balm and I hope they are truly delicious :-) And totally agree on the finely chopped salad - so much more intense. Wishing you a great broccoli and cabbage harvest!

    1. Thanks Lily. One of my favourite things about our garden is its propensity to surprise us with random volunteer veggies. It's because it's pretty crazy and overgrown. Not to everyone's taste, to be sure, but people with neat rows don't get surprise veggies!! It's also a prime example of Jackie French's Wilderness Garden concept, which I love. Best way to get volunteer tubers like Jerusalem Artichokes and potatoes is to check your off-cuts direct into the garden. We do pretty much all our veggie trimming on the table outside, about 2m from the veggie garden sprawl. Things that have any kind of possibility of sprouting get chucked straight on, bypassing the chook/compost step. Sometimes, they sprout and grow something (potatoes are good at this), and sometimes they don't, but nothing lost in the process right?

  2. That finely chopped salad has my mouth watering - thanks for fuelling my grow-your-own, make-your-own fantasies, you guys are an unfailing inspiration. I learned to love soups and salads when I lived in rural France in my early 20s, and a constant in my life has been the classic vinaigrette recipe I was taught back then - Dijon mustard, white wine vinegar and a light vegetable oil (eg sunflower, not olive). Can't remember the proportions, I just do it by feel. Whizz it up with a stick blender and make it in big batches, it makes anything taste good.

  3. Ah yes, soups, made from veggies just collected from the garden. We have had buckets of chokos over the last few weeks and they are sooo delicious. Even in summer we have soup just like yours. Lots of lovely chicken stock and whatever we have in the garden at the moment. Nice to have found your little blog via Lily from Booteville.
    Blessings Gail

  4. Okay, normally I hate people who link back to themselves, but this time I have to. I just posted about soup and salad as well!

    The recipe is pretty much like Gail's; simmer whatever veg you have in stock then obliterate it with a stick blender. It's the best way to get a meal from all the little bits and bobs the garden offers at the start and end of a season; and isn't it also the best way to just pour all of that goodness into yourself when you don't feel like eating sensibly! ^^


    1. Ha ha! 'Tis the season, especially for soups now the weather's cooling. Delicious!

  5. Its such an art and constant creative process to eat in season from the garden isn't it! You lovely ladies make the best salads around!
    Adore the pic of the frog- it's a Peron's Tree Frog! The giveaway sign is by looking at it's eye - it's large and silvery and has four dark lines that extend from the pupil and make a cross shape through the eye. Peron's are really cool in being able to change colour, from very pale like in this photo, to very dark grey/brown. Sometimes they even look to have really sparkly pretty green spots. A while back I worked on creating a frogs of the Illawarra brochure at work - there's probably quite a few frogs in the brochure that are also down your way :)

    Much love xxx

    1. Thanks Ally!! I suspected you'd be the one to ID the frog. We have a bunch of them at our place, usually in the blackberries. And you guys were such a massive inspiration for more seasonal from-the-garden eating! You guys are legends!