How to toss a luscious green salad

Recipe for a luscious green salad: a variety of crispy leaves, an array of fresh herbs, an assortment of vegetables as garnish, a handful of crunchy nuts and seeds, delicate edible flowers, a pinch of tasty salt and a flavourful dressing. Photo: Marisa Romano

By Marisa Romano

Summer is on its way, finally! The outdoor Ottawa Farmers Market is open for business and its stalls offer the first produce of the season. In the spotlight are a variety of greens: fresh, succulent, tender and crisp, and most of all, flavourful. Just what summer tables have been waiting for.

In recent years, green salads have come a long way from the classic but unexciting lettuce-tomato-cucumber smothered in commercial bottled dressing. Iceberg lettuce pushed aside, nowadays grocery stores offer a variety of interesting alternatives. But what makes a mixed green salad so luscious that it surprises diners at the first forkful?

A stroll to Lansdowne on a Sunday morning is all I needed to find out.

Here are the insights from some of the growers and vendors who offer locally-grown greens at the outdoor farmers market all summer long.

“Start with good salad leaves,” recommends Marc from Just Farms, “and then add to it.” He points to the vegetables displayed on his table, the first to be ready at the dawn of summer: tomatoes and cucumbers, of course, but also basil and beets. There will be more garnishes to add as summer makes its entrance and crops are ready for harvest.

Kimmy from Backyard Edibles likes to keep her leafy salad simple. She flavours it with herbs; then she throws in seeds and nuts to add crunchiness. Interesting tastes are also in the microgreens that she sells. Kimmy’s favourite is the crunchy mix.

Monique from Guy Bergeron Gardens praises rocket leaves. Among the herbs that she sells, she favours coriander as her garden salad pick-me-up.

“Green salads do not have to be just green!” chuckles Gord from New Leaf Organic Farm. For the green part, he suggests adding red-radish leaves, a nice peppery touch. Hint: keep the very healthy tops from your radish bunch before tossing the rest.

John from Waratah Downs sells a variety of unusual greens that add interesting flavours to all salads. Besides baby kale and mustard leaves, his green mixes include tatsoi and mizuna, two hardy Asian greens, members of the cabbage family with very distinctive flavours. “After that you do not need much to dress your salad up, just olive oil, lemon and salt,” he says, and after a pause he adds “and a little bit of maple syrup, just a little bit. That is my secret.”

Randa from Kiwan Farms makes her salad dressing with smashed fresh garlic, fresh lemon juice and olive oil. Her secret? “Nobody knows it,” she tells me in a whisper, “it is dry mint.”

Matt from Roots Down Organic Farm swears by salt, but not just any salt. He recommends Maldon salt or Sel de Mer: flavourful, not just salty. He may be spot on: the word salad comes from the Latin “sal” (salt) and “salada” (salty thing).

I also collected some interesting insights from friends willing to share their secrets.

Daniella brings the Peruvian flavour of her country of origin to the table and dresses up her greens with fresh lime juice and olive oil.

Sean adds chopped fresh garlic to the basic vinaigrette of balsamic or apple cider vinegar and olive oil mixed in a 1:2 ratio. He adds salt and pepper to taste and mixes in mustard or goat cheese to make the sauce creamy and very special. No amounts are ever measured. Sean is a relaxed cook.

Cynthia, the backyard forager, adds anything edible found in her garden, including delicate flowers. These days she is after dandelions, both leaves and colourful flowers.

Well, by the end of my ramble through the market stalls I have a few bundles of interesting greens. And with all the ideas that I have gathered I am now ready to toss luscious salads all summer long.

Marisa Romano is a foodie and scientist with a sense of adventure who appreciates interesting and nutritious foods that bring people together.

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