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As the days lengthen and grow warm, the promise of spring is unveiled in fat fruit buds and fragrant blossom. Salad greens are among the first early harvests and have a soft green freshness and a sweetness that comes not from the sun but from the earth and their own inherent essence. Emerging from the cocoon of winter, we savour the first delicate tastes of the new season in food that is light, refreshing and revitalising with bright, zingy flavours that revive palates jaded from months of winter soups and stews.
If you are new to gardening or don’t have much space, a good place to start is by growing salad greens. Salad greens such as mesculin and rocket are some of the easiest things to grow – you can even produce good results in a tub. Choose a moist spot, add compost or organic nitrogenous fertiliser if needed, and keep regularly watered, using a little seaweed fertiliser now and then to keep the soil nutrients up. Sprinkle the whole packet of seeds generously over an area about a metre square to produce a thick swathe of tender young salad greens. After just four to six weeks, depending on how warm it is, you can get your scissors and ‘mow’ your first crop. Don’t pull the plants up from the roots – if you give them a cut about 3cm above the ground you will be able to cut a harvest for the salad bowl every week or so, getting four to five cuts (or even more) before they go to seed. Not a bad investment for a packet of seeds that cost less than $3!
Fresh picked salad greens will keep for up to 12 days in the fridge, provided they are carefully handled. The trick is to ensure the greens are completely dry and kept in a sealed container in the fridge to retain their crispness. If the leaves are wet they will go black and soggy. Some leaves are more sturdy than others. The likes of spinach leaves, mesclun mixes, cos and rocket stand up well to washing and spinning dry in a salad spinner. More delicate leaves like buttercrunch lettuce are best gently patted dry.
These are some of my favourite recipes for salad greens:
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