Thursday, March 17, 2011

Ornamental Edible: Mache

If you crave a tidy bed of greens for an endless supply of the spicy, savory, bitter and crisp leaves that make a truly great salad, try growing a salad garden. It can be as small as a perfect square foot plot or a matrix of geometric designs. For new gardeners, lettuce and salad greens are the easiest and quickest garden crops to grow and are ideal to plant in a kitchen garden. Consider a full range of European and American heirloom greens blended with gorgeous lettuces that weave together into a colorful tapestry almost too beautiful to harvest.

One of my favorite salad greens is mache. This once wild green has unique rounded cup-shaped leaves, that form sweet rosettes that call for little more than a simple dressing of walnut oil and sherry vinegar or a twist of lemon to balance their mild, nutty flavor. Cold tolerant and compact, this delicate green is best served on it's own or in the classic Swiss recipe with chopped beets and croutons.
Direct sow in the garden in rows, allowing 5 inches in-between rows in order to cultivate. Keep plants watered and harvest with scissors when small rosettes are formed, about 3 inches tall.

Try this recipe from my new book The Complete Kitchen Garden

Mache and Chicken Salad with Lemon Tahini Dressing
The delicate spoon shaped leaves deserve a light fruity dressing to complement its natural qualities. The flavors of spring are showcased with new red-skinned potatoes, lemon tahini dressing and sauteed chicken.
Serves 4 to 6
1 pound new or baby red potatoes
1 pound chicken tenders
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 clove garlic
4 cups mache
1/2 cup Honey Tahini Dressing
1 cup shelled English peas (about 1 1/2 pounds unshelled)
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot
1. Place a steamer basket in a large saucepan, add 1 inch of water, and bring to a boil. Put the potatoes in the basket and steam until barely tender when pierced with a sharp knife, about 15 to 20 minutes, depending on size. When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, slice or quarter them.
2. Toss the chicken with 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the chicken and cook until golden brown and cooked through, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer to a clean cutting board to cool. Shred into bite-size pieces.
3. Season a wooden salad bowl by rubbing with the garlic and pinch of salt. Chop the garlic and add to the bowl along with the potatoes and mache. Pour the dressing over the potatoes and greens; gently toss to coat. Add the peas, shallot, and shredded chicken; toss gently and serve.
Honey Tahini Dressing
Makes 1 1/4 cups
Extra virgin olive oil and lemon are the backbone of this dressing, but it gets a unique boost from tahini, a thick paste of ground sesame seeds. Look for it in large supermarkets in the Middle Eastern section or near other nut butters. This healthy, light dressing is a perfect pairing for a wide range of tender spring greens.
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup tahini
2 tablespoons honey
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
Combine the lemon juice, oil, tahini, honey, and garlic in a blender, a jar with a tight-fitting lid, or a medium bowl. Blend, shake, or whisk until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.