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Growing unusual edibles: salads 2

by Tom Moggach

pea shoots header

Credit: Suzie's Farm

For anyone who loves to grow their own ingredients, star billing must go to your salads – surely the easiest of high quality harvests. In a previous article we suggested some less familiar leaves and flowers to liven up your salad bowl – including mustards, nasturtiums and purslanes. See http://www.cityplanter.co.uk/practical/grow-your-own/growing-unusual-edibles-salads.  So here’s round two – another batch of easy-to-grow leaves that will lift your salad mixes to the next level.

Buckler Leaf Sorrel

buckler-leaved-sorrelThis niche variety of sorrel is a winner in any salad mix. The attractive, bite-sized leaves are much smaller than more common French sorrel – an ideal size for the salad bowl. Lemony in flavour, they offer an explosion of refreshing, tart acidity.Each leaf is shaped like a shield or a ‘buckler’ – hence the name. This plant is a perennial, so choose a prime spot that gets some sun.

There’s still time to grow this sorrel from seed this year. Sow directly into the soil or into plug trays, around half a dozen seeds per cell, before planting out. Once established, the sorrel will gently spread in a compact clump. Keep picking the larger leaves, allowing the smaller to grow on.

Seeds: Sarah Raven

Minutina

Another stunner – this time for the unusual shape of its long, graceful, serrated leaves that look a little like wild rocket. Minutina is also known as ‘Buckshorn Plantain’ or ‘Erba Stella’. It’s a tough plant that is a doddle to grow. The easiest method is to sow directly into the soil, anytime from spring to early summer.

Harvest by cutting the leaves a few centimetres above ground level. Aim for small leaves for salad. They are both crunchy and juicy – adding great shape and texture. Wilt larger leaves into stir-fries or sauté to serve as a side dish.

Seeds: Real Seeds.

Red Orach

Red orach atriplex

Credit:Anne Tanne

These leaves are all about colour – a deep, luscious purple / red that jumps out in the salad bowl. Note that the seed should be sown in the same year as purchase, from April to around mid July. Pick the small leaves for salads. Larger leaves can be treated like spinach. The plant will happily self-seed at the end of the season.

Seed: Chiltern Seeds; Nicky’s Nursery

Land Cress

Hardy land cress has the peppery bite of watercress yet is much easier to grow. You can sow seed year round, but land cress is particularly useful started off in August or September for a winter crop. Sow directly into the soil or in cell trays, four seeds per cell. Fleece the crop during frosts and harvest the larger, outer leaves allowing the small inner leaves to grow on. Land cress is also known as ‘American Cress’.

Seed: Real Seeds; Dobies

Chick Pea Shoots

chick-pea-shootsChick pea shoots can be grown in exactly the same way as pea shoots – a far more familiar salad ingredient. I use dried chickpeas from a health food shop, soaked overnight in tepid water. Sow seed very thickly into seed trays or lined plastic blue mushroom trays filled with compost, then cover. Your first crops will be within the month. Snip the leaves when small and tender. Note that you cannot cut-and-come-again with this plant. The graceful leaves are a lovely deep green, with a distinct, intriguing flavour.

Seed: use organic chick peas from a health food shop.

Pea Shoots

Easily grown using the same technique as chick pea shoots, pea shoots are best harvested small, before the tendrils of the closely packed seedlings start to intertwine, making them hard to separate. Unlike chick pea shoots, you should enjoy two or three harvests per tray using the cut-and-come-again method.

Seed: use organic marrow fat peas from a health food shop.

Endive

Known for its refreshing, subtly bitter flavour, endive is another prime choice for winter salads. You may know the plant as a ‘frisee’, the French name. Try this type for salads. ‘Escarole’ varieties of endive have larger, broader leaves and are typically more hardy. Sow either type in August for a winter crop. Sow directly in the soil or use plug trays, sowing two seeds per cell then thinning to one sturdy seedling. Harvest the outer leaves if using the cut-and-come-again method. To cut a whole head, try blanching the plant for two weeks beforehand by placing a bucket over the top to exclude light. This will improve its flavour.

Seed: Kings Seeds

Ice Plant

mesembryanthemum_crystallinum pxThis is a highly unusual salad plant with fleshy leaves that appear covered in ice crystals. In fact, these are water vesicles, a type of pouch for moisture. This is a succulent that is best planted in a sunny spot in fertile soil. Keep picking the larger leaves to stop it going to seed. You can sow ice plant in April or May for crops at the end of summer. One to try next year, perhaps!

Seeds: B & T World Seeds

 

 

 

Tom Moggach runs City Leaf, which trains people in urban food growing skills, and is author of ‘The Urban Kitchen Gardener: Growing & Cooking in the City’ (Kyle Books).

www.tom-moggach.com

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