Tomato and peach from the Grant Park Farmers’ Market in Atlanta, basil from the backyard: this is what late June in Georgia looks like on a plate. Not sure I could survive the summers here, but it’s sure nice to visit and eat a month ahead of our Michigan schedule.
Bagged salad greens are a go-to for our weekly salad needs: Green Gardens and Blue Dog are our usual Bank St. sources, each providing a mix of sweet, spicy, and bitter that prove that healthy is delicious. But this time of year, and this year in particular, with the relatively cool couple of weeks we’ve had, our salad bowls fill up with soft-leaved, vibrantly colored head lettuces. A purple beauty bought on Saturday from Chanterelle at Silverbeet Farm didn’t make it past noon, or last long enough to be photographed. I just cored and rinsed it, gave it a quick spin in the Oxo, and devoured it with only a little crunchy coarse-grained sea salt, good olive oil, and red wine vinegar. Heaven. Steve at The Four Acres had a buy-five-get-the-sixth-one-free deal, so we loaded up and have been happy as rabbits ever since, with two salad days still to come (see photo above). We’ll see if the promised heat holds off long enough to let the lettuces reign for another week. If not, well, we lived leafy while we could.
The following appeared in this month’s Food Notes, the e-newsletter published by Edible Michiana. Check out the April issue for another piece by me, and subscribe to see some things I’ll be publishing there in the future, as well as other short stories and news items of regional interest (http://ediblemichiana.ediblecommunities.com/newsletter-archive).
Except for asparagus, the rare spring vegetable that takes to the heat of the pan and oven like a child to the beach, the Michiana markets right now give us their abundance in the form of the cool, the crisp, the pungent, and the bitter. Tables are piled high with leafy green lettuces, spinach, and kale, punctuated by the red and white globes of radish and turnip. Underlining all of this, though, are the alliums: ramps (wild leeks), their more civilized scallion and spring onion friends, the deceptively scallion-like green garlic, and, soon, the curly garlic scapes that come from the farmer’s need to thwart the flower and grow the bulb.
When my wife and I first began really trying to eat from our local markets, it was these alliums that posed the biggest culinary challenge. I had learned from my dad to swirl fat spring onions in lemon juice, salt and oil and eat them raw, and scallions, of course, can be chopped and sprinkled on all sorts of things. But how to really cook with all of these, when nearly every recipe calls for their bigger late-season cousins? It was this question that taught me the surprising importance of analogy in the kitchen: if you substitute like for like, the flavor may differ, but the result will usually be delicious.
So our rule became: in a recipe where onions are, there spring alliums shall be. Swap green garlic for the more familiar bulbed variety, the whites of scallions and ramps for onion. Your sauces, marinades, and sautés may taste a little unfamiliar, but they’ll still be delicious – most of the time. Analogies are, by definition, imperfect, so not everything always works. Spring is about willingness to try something new, though, so this weekend splurge on the scallions, rake up the ramps, and grab the green garlic. There’s still asparagus to soothe you if your experiments go awry.