May 23, 2009

'credit crunch' garden salad with herbs and flowers

Everyone has been affected by the so called 'credit crunch' that we all now find ourselves trying to navigate through. But, does this mean that we can no longer eat good, nutritious, elegant food? - no, of course not! It just means we have to get a little more 'creative'.

I love salad, but not usually the price. So, yesterday when I found huge dewy, crunchy salad greens at a local vegetable store for only 69p each I was ecstatic! You may smirk, but they truly were the best buy of my day, and I couldn't wait to get them home and wash and 'spin' them. I wasn't disappointed either, because, with using only half of each lettuce head I still had a HUGE bowl of the freshest, crispest, plump and mouth-watering greens you could ask for. A proud reminder that the sad, and very expensive, washed lettuce bags that we are fobbed off with by the supermarkets all winter in our attempt to produce a passable mixed plate of greenery, are now but a memory, as, once again - for a few months at least! - we can pile our plates high with magnificent drifts of locally grown frisee, raddicchio and lollo rossa.........hurrah for spring! Perhaps I should change this post title to 'ode to lettuce'!

Anyway, having extolled the virtues of the humble salad leaf, so often pushed around the plate to be left wilting in the remains of the dinner's main star - or even worse - used merely as a whimsical decor. I would like to encourage it's use as the main 'player', along with other overlooked treasures of our gardens. After all, the herbs and vegetables that we now take for granted were once little known wild 'weeds' themselves. 'Lettuce (Lactuca sativa) is one of the oldest known vegetables, developed from prickly lettuce (L. serriola), a wild plant around the Mediterranean and Caucasus regions which was used as a medicinal herb. Some reports point back as far as the Egyptians in 4500 BC, but it was certainly cultivated by ancient Greeks and Romans. The Emperor Caesar Augustus even had a statute made memorializing the romaine-type lettuce he believed cured him from an illness.' Susan Mahr, Department of Horticulture, University of Wisconsin - Madison

Now is the perfect time to look further than the end of the supermarket aisle, and explore the edible delights that can be found in our own back yards!

So, let's get to the salad in point. This is intrinsically such a basic dish - hard boiled eggs, salad greens, salty olives, herbs and flowers,and a tangy garlic and herb dressing - but, when put together it truly does show that basic eating doesn't have to be boring eating. You may have already noticed that I love 'pretty' food, as well as food with integrity; good wholesome, natural ingredients, and no artificial anything! Well, this simple, delicate salad is a feast not only for the taste-buds, but also for the eyes. Bright yellow just boiled eggs sprinkled with smoky paprika (I like M&S Smoked Paprika mix); strong earthy flavours cut through with the saltiness of black spanish olives, and the tang of a garlicky dressing. All complemented with the delicate herbs and flowers and the crisp, crunch of the salad leaves.

Garden egg, herb and flowers salad
(Alfie - Cabbage Roses and Cupcakes)

Hard boil two eggs per person for around 7-8 minutes, so that they are still a little soft. Meanwhile wash and arrange a colourful mixture of salad leaves on each plate.

When the eggs are done, put them under a running cold tap to quickly cool them down and prevent the dark sulphur ring forming. Then peel and halve and arrange on the salad leaves.

Finally finish off the salad with a sprinkling of paprika over the eggs, and then add the olives and a variety of whatever herbs and flowers you have to hand. I used chives, dill, parsley, and viola flowers.

Dress with a simple garlic, herb vinaigrette made from 1 part cider vinegar to three parts good olive oil, with a crushed clove of garlic and some chopped basil and parsley all whisked up together in a bowl or glass jar.

It's nutritious with protein and iron from the eggs, and a good helping of vitamins and minerals from the various herbs - so it just goes to show that just because money is a bit tight, we don't need to sacrifice good eating!


Margaret said...

The salad looks really pretty. Great photo!

Sylvie said...

What a pretty salad. The thing that annoys me the most about those salad bags isn't even the price, it's the fact they never dry it well enough, so that after two days you start finding slimy used-to-be-a-lettuce-leaf-once-upon-a-time bits in them.

Alfie said...

Margaret - thank you, it was fun; like painting with food!

Sylvie - I know exactly what you mean. They last about five minutes once you've opened them, and then you end up throwing most of it away!

mangocheeks said...

I have a small veg plot and try to grow some of my own veg, and edible flowers have been one of those beauitiful intorductions. I love the look of this.

Happy New Year to you.