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.
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.)
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 figs, thinly sliced
pickled pearl onions, chopped
pitted Kalamata olives that had been marinated in herbs and Cabernet wine, sliced
|Lovely, isn't it?|
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.
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|
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.