Last weekend I was lucky enough to visit Gabriel Valley Farms for a few hours. Gabriel Valley Farms is a wholesale grower of organically-grown edibles of all description, herbs and vegetables, and I had a ball.
It was an event sponsored by our local chapter of Slow Food. If you don’t know about these folks, you can find information about the national movement, but (quoting from their site) “Slow Food is an idea, a way of living and a way of eating. It is a global, grassroots movement with thousands of members around the world that links the pleasure of food with a commitment to community and the environment”. How could one not be smitten with a “movement” that celebrates the snail as its logo/mascot/totem?
Anyway, we were lucky to get to visit this grower. They are not generally open to the buying public. They are wholesalers and sell primarily to the smaller locally-owned garden centers in the greater Austin area. It was impressive visiting the source! The farm consists of about a dozen and a half large greenhouses, all covered with shade cloth so the babies don’t get sunburned.
Cathy and Sam walked us through their philosophy and a bit of the history of the place, then they cut us loose to wander and fill up our flats with goodies. They grow the basics in the way of culinary herbs, beautiful thyme, mint, varieties of rosemary, lots of oregano and much more, but also salad greens I’d never heard of.
I know tatsoi, which looks sort of like baby spinach but is darker green and buttery in flavor, but I’d never heard of “komatsuna” or “mizuna” or “waido”. And they grow every lemon-scented herb anyone could possibly want. I came home with a carload of new-to-me greens and lemon verbena/thyme/balm…. Mmmm….
Now the babies are safely ensconced in big pots, and I think they’ll do fine. They get just a few hours of direct sun every day, and they should be safe from burn or wind. I put them out by the rain barrels, so they’ll get first dibs on the good water and they’re partially shaded by the big fig tree. Even the remote chance of frost is still months away here in central Texas, but if need be I can bring them inside or at least cover them easily.
So far I haven’t harvested anything but the most “outside” leaves, and they haven’t made it into the house, I just grazed right there in the yard. I do expect great things, though, and leave you with a sure-fire salad dressing. This is a basic vinaigrette, but if you substitute fig or date or raspberry (or walnut if you can find it) vinegar (from “vin aigre”, sour wine in French) for the balsamic you can modify the dressing for any sort of greens you like. The trick to this dressing, simply, is in the order of things. If you put everything in at once the salt and sugar won’t “melt” because of the oil. This is easy, fast, and will keep in the fridge for a week or so. Just shake well before using… and let it warm to room temperature before dressing your salad.
Basic Salad Dressing
2 T vinegar (balsamic, white wine, red wine, you get the idea)
1 pinch salt
1 pinch sugar
fresh ground pepper
2 t Dijon mustard (optional)
5 T olive oil
Put the vinegar, salt, sugar, and pepper (and mustard if using it) in a small glass jar that has a good tight fitting screw-on top. Cover tightly and shake (over the sink just in case) until the salt and sugar are completely dissolved into the vinegar/mustard. Open the jar, add the olive oil, close tightly and shake again.
Taste, add more oil if the dressing seems to vinegar-y, shake as above. Dress salad right before serving.
Salad greens are best if completely dry, and about room temperature or just slightly cooler. If the greens are too cold (right out of the fridge) or wet (from washing) the dressing wont’ “stick” well.
Have a green week! Bon appetit…