Monday, June 1, 2015

We say "Salad" and They said "Sallat"

It is the beginning of June so summer is near and spring has had a chance to settle in and make the yard beautiful with greenery and flowers.  My work has finally slowed down so I have time to play in that yard!

I found myself restless and dissatisfied with the ideas I was getting for this blog post.  I wanted something with vegetables.  I wanted to use some of the plants in my garden.  And I wanted it to be the same but different.  I know, I know!  How do you meet all those requirements?

I spent this morning working in my herb garden, trimming and mulching and weeding.  I thought about how, during the Elizabethan period, fresh herbs were often a part of a good "sallat,", what we today call a salad.  Could I put together a fun and different Elizabethan-style sallat and enjoy it?

My feelings were mixed.  What I put into salads is usually lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, croutons, raisins or dried cranberries, and chunks of cheese.  Sometimes other items as they happen to be in my kitchen.  This is a tasty mix and I have no complaints with it.

However, fresh herbs can have strong flavors to taste buds not accustomed to them.  Tomatoes and cranberries were out as they are New World foods.  While croutons might have been used, I couldn't recall any references to them so I would leave them out.  What else could I add that would be appropriate to the period and still appealing?

I turned to one of my favorite books, The English Housewife by Gervase Markham, edited by Michael R. Best.

ISBN 0-7735-1103-2
The preface states this book "is the most comprehensive, the most practical, and the most readable of the many books of instruction written for women in the early seventeenth century."

In Chapter II he starts off describing the knowledge a wife must have of herbs:  how to grow them, the best times to harvest them, when to save the seeds, and, of course, how to cook with them.  His first receipt (recipe) is "Of sallats.  Simple sallats."
First then to speak of sallats, there be some simple, and some compounded; some only to furnish out the table, and some both for use and adornation.  ...  chives, scallions, radish roots, boiled carrots, skirrets, and turnips, with such like served up simply; also, all young lettuce, cabbage lettuce, purslane, and divers other herbs which may be served simply without anything but a little vinegar, sallat oil, and sugar;
He mentions, in his compounded sallat sections, ingredients like red sage, mint, violets, marigolds, spinach, blanched almonds, raisins, capers, olives, figs, currants, thinly sliced and peeled oranges and lemons, and pickled cucumbers.  I was pretty sure I could pull a variety of these ingredients together to make a sallat.

I collected small quantities of various herbs and flowers from my garden:  oregano, lavender, thyme, lemon verbena, rosemary, mint, violas, basil, and sage. (It is important to know that your plants are free from bug sprays and other toxins.)

They were rinsed with water and, as they drained, I assembled the "main" sallat. I used

spring mix (a blend of spinach and baby lettuces)
a shallot, peeled and sliced paper thin
a fresh cucumber, peeled and sliced
carrots, chopped and microwaved for about a minute to cook them to tender
dried currants
dried figs, thinly sliced
pickled pearl onions, chopped
pitted Kalamata olives that had been marinated in herbs and Cabernet wine, sliced
pickled capers

Lovely, isn't it?
I kept the quantities of these ingredients low (expect for the spring mix base) because I didn't want too much competition for flavors but I wanted a variety.

The herb leaves were stripped off the stems and either cut into slivers or chopped.  The lavender flowers were stripped and left whole. I put them into individual bowls so my guest taster and I could sprinkle them onto our individual sallats and judge their impact.  There were only four viola flowers so I placed them as decoration on top of the main sallat.

We scooped some of the main into our bowls then added whatever combination of herbs we wanted to try.  This was a great idea because it inspired us to have several bowlfuls each in order to sample the whole variety.  I think I had four servings.  We dressed our sallats with a balsamic vinaigrette.  We both tried eating a viola flower by itself.

The Verdict

We both concluded that the violas were pretty but didn't have much flavor.  I thought the lavender flowers were too strong and bitter to eat raw but I did start getting accustomed to their flavor.  My guest taster thought they were fine from the beginning.

A treat for the eye
We both liked all the herbs although some were strong and needed some getting used to.  My favorites were basil (no surprise there), thyme, and mint and they were the ones I kept going back to.  The sage was okay but I thought it needed to be chopped into smaller pieces.  The lemon verbena was strong and I kept thinking I didn't like it.  Eventually I liked it.

My guest taster's favorites were oregano, sage, basil, rosemary, and thyme.  He described their impact as "little bursts of flavor", which he liked very much.  He said he would love to have any of them again, including the bright flavor of the lemon verbena.

Success!  I am not doubtful any more about using fresh herbs in my sallats.  I know to keep their pieces small so to get those bursts without overwhelming the other flavors.

I served the sallat with chicken thighs baked in an Italian dressing coating and with an herb stuffing side dish.  Was this too much herb flavoring in one meal?  Not at all.  The flavors complemented each other and made for a very tasty dinner.


  1. Oh, cool! I've seen some interesting new (old) herbs at the farmer's market lately and I've been thinking of doing one of the sallat recipes from Gervase Markham, too. I discovered that I like adding finely chopped basil, mint, and parsley to any salad greens that I eat. I do a "chiffonade", or stack a few leaves on top of each other, roll them up tightly, and slice them as thinly as I can. Then sprinkle over the other salad greens and mix in. I haven't used so many herbs in a salad, though, so I'll have to try that sometime this summer. I'm glad you liked it! I think I'll also include sliced lemon and orange in my salad, and see if I can get away with not using vinegar in the dressing!

  2. Lemons and oranges, oh what an excellent idea! I just planted some nasturtiums so I will be able to add those, too. My guest taster was just wistfully wishing for another sallat like this one, only I am currently out of sallat greens. Thanks for your comment and the ideas!

  3. Lemons and oranges, oh what an excellent idea! I just planted some nasturtiums so I will be able to add those, too. My guest taster was just wistfully wishing for another sallat like this one, only I am currently out of sallat greens. Thanks for your comment and the ideas!