With the spring coming on like crazy, I find myself constantly walking the garden to see shoots of edible things peeking through the mulch. I know it’s too early for asparagus, but the sorrel is beginning to show signs of life.
Leafy greens are earliest spring vegetables
Usually the first shoots we see are leafy greens. Many of them actually have chemical substances (mostly sugars) that act as antifreeze so they are perfectly at home in the coldest weather. They are the best plants to bracket the growing season with since they are so cold tolerant. They also make great cold frame crops.
Greens are simple things. In a world of chaotic schedules, hurried meals, and gourmet foods, it’s pleasant to eat something as simple to prepare and wholesome as Swiss chard or kale. Besides, with the constant nattering about eating less fat and more vegetables, who can argue with getting a solid dose of cancer-fighting vitamins in something that tastes so good?
Greens are easy to grow
Most are easy to grow, and only need moderately fertile well-drained soil and full to partial sun. I actually like to seed several types of greens in the fall so they will be up early and provide me with tasty meals when there’s not much else around that is so fresh. Some greens bolt quickly when the heat comes, so giving them a head start by planting in fall means I’ll have plenty of spinach, lettuce, mustard and Chinese cabbage in early spring.
Spinach is one of the first greens that comes to mind. Who doesn’t love spinach? You can start plants under a cold frame in fall, where they will start growing and then go into suspended animation for the winter. As the days lengthen, the small plants will take off. I actually have baby spinach for the table now.
I always grow mustard greens. Red mustard is beautiful for ornament, and the frilly green mustards are absolutely delicious when steamed or sauteed with garlic. I let some go to seed at the end of spring and they provide new plants for fall harvest. Then I let the fall plants set seeds to provide the next spring’s crop. I have a steady supply and I don’t have to do a thing except thin or move them around where I want them. I like that in a plant.
Swiss chard and kale
Of course I also always grow Swiss chard and several types of kale. I leave the old stalks in the ground through the winter and about half the time they will sprout giving me very early greens. These stalks don’t usually last past May, but that gives me time to get new plants in the ground before they give out. And neither of these greens bolts in warm weather so I have greens all summer.
Kale is a favorite
I get some pushback when I talk about kale these days – “it’s so passe!” as everyone says. But it will never get old with me. I love it in soups, stirfries, and my favorite, kale salad. But not your usual chopped raw kale. That often leaves people cold. But I’ve learned to massage it into a sweet, tender vegetable that doesn’t resemble the woody, chewy kind often found in kale salads.
My favorite to use is dragon kale, also called laciniato, an Italian heirloom. I find it’s the sweetest. It may sound strange to think of massaging kale into a salad, but crushing it takes away the bitterness and toughness. Try it – I think you’ll be hooked.
Massaged Kale Salad
One large bunch kale (laciniato preferred, but any kind will work)
1 t. salt
1 clove garlic, minced
1 T. olive oil
Juice of one half a lemon
Parmesan cheese to garnish
Remove the ribs from the kale. This can be done by grasping the end of the rib and stripping off the leaves. Discard the ribs. Roll the leaves into a “cigar” and slice into ribbons.
In a large bowl, douse the kale with the olive oil, add the garlic and salt and begin to massage or crush the kale with your hands. This can only be done well with the hands, so get into it and enjoy it. Your hands will thank you for the olive oil massage.
Once the kale is dark green and reduced considerably in bulk, squeeze the lemon juice over it. Adjust the salt, add pepper if you desire and garnish with plenty of fresh grated parmesan cheese. You will find this irresistible!