Thursday, April 30, 2009

Growing & Eating your own spring lettuce salads

4/15/09 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

Last year at the end of a long hot summer and an even longer growing season we put down our hoes and said, “No more vegetable gardens!” With a sigh of relief we closed the garden gate on the end of an era. Sadly, homegrown lettuce and all other veggies were to be a thing of the past for us. Or so it seemed.

Deep into fall, as we headed into winter, I noticed that Chuck surreptitiously covered the beds with leaves and casually slipped statements about planting just a few tomatoes, potatoes and onion sets into our conversations. This year, during our annual spring flowerbed cleanup, he often disappeared just to pull a few weeds in the vegetable garden. Hmm.

One day he informed me that we had some lettuce volunteers from last year’s seed. But the pickings were sparse! So he decided to fill in the gaps and happily drove into town to purchase just one itty-bitty package of lettuce seed. Of course, he came home with much more than lettuce seeds but that is a subject for another day.

Lettuce is amazingly easy to grow and if you hurry, it’s not too late to get some seed in the ground. This cool weather crop loves temperatures of 55-60° F. and germinates easily. Be sure and get your soil all fluffed up with 1 pound of ammonium sulfate dug in and well watered for each 100 square feet of soil before you plant.

The average packet of seed only weighs about 0.1 ounce but contains hundreds of seeds. By conservatively sowing just a few seeds in a pot every two weeks and then transplanting them into the garden, you can stretch out your crop for months.

We have good results with loose leaf varieties (red and green) as well as Butter and Romaine. Our success rate is not as good with Iceberg types of lettuce. They take longer to germinate and can be fussy about temperature and all kinds of things. But try whatever suits your fancy. Remember, nothing ventured, nothing gained. The cost is miniscule and the reward is delicious.

If you’re new to this planting business, check out the OSU Extension Service for advice. They are great folks, very knowledgeable and have information galore for gardeners. You can visit them in Eugene at 950 W. 13th Ave.; call them at 541-682-4247 or check out the website at

Nothing beats the fresh taste and convenience of homegrown lettuce. Early in the morning, pick what you need, wash it well, wrap loosely in a clean towel and refrigerate. And if you’re bored with lettuce, tomato and Italian dressing salads, try one of the following recipes. Delicious!

Simple Spring Salad Recipe
Serves 4

4 big handfuls of salad greens, washed and dried
1-2 oranges, separated into segments
1/2 cup walnut halves, toasted
1/3 cup black olives, (the wrinkly, oily ones), pitted

1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup vegetable oil
Dash of salt
1/2 small red onion, finely minced

In a medium bowl whisk together the orange and lemon juices, vegetable oil, most of the red onion and salt. Whisk together until emulsified, taste and adjust with more salt or lemon juice if needed.

When you're ready to serve, place the salad greens in a large bowl. Toss very gently with most of the dressing. Add the orange segments and walnuts. Toss again. Taste and decide if you need to add more dressing. If needed, add a bit more, tossing between additions. Evenly distribute nuts and oranges. Serve salad topped with the remaining red onion and olives.

Butter Lettuce and Radish Salad with Fresh Spring Herbs
Bon Appétit April 2005
Serves 2

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon Champagne vinegar
1 tablespoon minced shallot (chives or young green onions okay)
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

Whisk oil, vinegar, shallot, and mustard in medium bowl to blend. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

2 small heads of butter lettuce, outer leaves removed
4 thinly sliced radishes
1 avocado, peeled, pitted, sliced 1/2 inch thick
1/2 cup assorted whole fresh herb leaves (such as tarragon, chervil, parsley, and cilantro)

Cut cores from heads of lettuce, keeping heads intact; rinse and dry. Arrange 1 head of lettuce on each of 2 plates, forming rose shape. Tuck radish and avocado slices between lettuce leaves. Scatter fresh herb leaves over lettuce on each plate. Drizzle salad with dressing

Food and Wine
Serves 6

5-6 cups mixed spring lettuces
Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated or shaved into curls

1 lb medium asparagus, washed and trimmed into bite-sized pieces
Olive oil
Finely grated lemon zest

Preheat oven to 450°F. On a rimmed baking sheet, sprinkle asparagus with lemon zest and olive oil; season with salt and pepper. Roast the asparagus for about 8 minutes, until just tender and the tips begin to turn brown. Meanwhile, prepare dressing.

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a small bowl, whisk the lemon juice with the mustard and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

In a large bowl, toss the lettuces with all but 2 Tbsp. of the dressing. Arrange the salad on plates and top with the roasted asparagus and cheese curls. Drizzle the remaining dressing over the asparagus and serve.

Keep it simple and keep it seasonal!
Betty Kaiser’s Cook’s Corner is dedicated to sharing a variety of recipes
that are delicious, family oriented and easy to prepare.

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