Fresh Salads and Salad Dressings

By Ellen Ecker Ogden, "Homegrown Salads," March/April 2009

No need to eat a boring salad night after night. Explore greens and dressings to spice up your dinner table.

In just four years, my garden project had progressed well beyond growing a few things to eat. So I co-founded a seed catalog called The Cook’s Garden to share my love of European and American heirloom lettuce and salad greens (as well as justify my buying habits). At first, it was just a seasonal business. During the winter, I packed seed envelopes on the kitchen counter. The catalog started as a two-page listing featuring close to 150 different types of exotic lettuce and fancy salad greens with wonderful names, such as Reine des Glaces (Ice Queen) and Osaka Purple Mustard. I quickly discovered that there were other gardeners who, just like me, were hungry for something out of the ordinary to plant in their gardens.

Many of these greens were new to me and to our customers, so I began to develop recipes to include in the catalog. I experimented and learned that spicy greens, such as arugula and mustard, could be tamed with a creamy dressing, while milder greens, such as mâche or delicate butterhead lettuce, required a light dressing that wouldn’t overpower them. I also shared tips I learned along the way, like make sure your greens are completely dry before you dress them, or rub a wooden salad bowl with a pinch of salt and a clove of garlic to season it before tossing the greens with the dressing.

Eventually I outgrew The Cook’s Garden and sold the catalog to W.A. Burpee Company. But today I still plant my garden full of lettuce and salad greens. The flavor of fresh greens will always beat anything I find at the market, and I still plant a patchwork quilt of red and green lettuce edged with a ferny border of parsley. Besides, growing a garden is the next logical step beyond eating locally grown foods and I like the responsibility of growing my own—it’s the ultimate celebration of fresh seasonal food.

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