Early Spring Salad, Week Ending 3/8/2020

Winter has been very mild in the mid-Atlantic this year, with only one anemic snowfall and a few periods of single-digit overnight lows. Spring is arriving early, bringing with it an abundance of foraging opportunities. Field garlic and chickweed are generally available even in the coldest months of the year, although they tend to be somewhat smaller and thus less motivating to harvest and eat. But the warm temperatures of the past week has led both to … um, well not “blossom” per se, but really come into their own as an early spring / later winter food. I know I’ve covered both in this blog before, but this time I’m including a recipe as well!

Field Garlic (Allium vineale) – Often considered an obnoxious lawn weed, field garlic has the oniony-garlicky flavor of its cultivated cousins. Field garlic is a very easy plant to forage. It is ubiquitous – anyone with a lawn probably has a few patches of it – and very easy to spot in early March because it springs to life faster than the surrounding grass. Additionally, there are no poisonous plants which have the same flavor or aroma, so you can feel confident you have the right bulbs by breaking and sniffing the stems.

Field garlic towers above the surrounding grass in early March
Field garlic towers above the surrounding grass in early March

You can use field garlic in many of the same ways you would garlic, green onions or chives; due to its comparatively small size, it works better as a seasoning than a vegetable. Last year I infused the field garlic in vinegar, thinking that would preserve the flavor for my enjoyment all year round. However, I realized a) it was too powerful for my tastes, and b) I don’t actually used flavored vinegars regularly in my cooking. So it just sat around, smelling up my pantry, until I finally dumped it out. (Too bad I didn’t have any vampires to chase away!) The herbed butter I posted about last year was a much more suitable use for our own household. 

Chickweed (Stellaria media) –  My favorite winter salad green. I still occasionally buy grocery store lettuce during the winter, but generally I have shifted my eating habits to eat more cooked and roasted vegetables during the winter because that is more seasonally appropriate. But sometimes you need the crunch of fresh greens, and chickweed fulfills that role beautifully.

The best chickweed always grows where it isn't wanted .... like my asparagus bed!
The best chickweed always grows where it isn’t wanted …. like my asparagus bed!

Chickweed is nearly as widespread as field garlic, although it prefers to grow in sidewalk cracks, mulched beds, and my garden rather than open lawn. Also, I recently discovered that my hens love it as a treat, so when weeding my garden, tufts that are too small for human consumption get tossed to them. In addition to its food value, chickweed has been used as an herbal medicine for internal use for the digestive tract, arthritis and detoxification agent (among others) and externally for skin irritations and roseola (according to The Lost Book of Herbal Remedies anyway. I haven’t tried it for any of these purposes myself, mind you, so your mileage may vary… always consult a doctor, etc., etc.)

Field Garlic Vinaigrette 

  • 1/3 c extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 c white wine vinegar
  • 2 – 3 Tbs field garlic stems and bulbs, roughly chopped
  • 1 Tbs honey
  • 2 tsp dijon mustard
  • salt and black pepper to taste (I used 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper)

Mix all ingredients in a blender. Taste test for additional salt or pepper (or more field garlic!) Puree if desired for an extra smooth dressing, or leave some of the field garlic intact for a burst of color and texture. Serve over chickweed salad. This will keep in the refrigerator for a few weeks, but the cold will make it thick; bring back to room temperature in a bowl of warm water if needed to restore liquidity.

Chickweed salad with field garlic vinaigrette - a perfect spring pairing
Chickweed salad with field garlic vinaigrette – a perfect spring pairing

Chickweed Salad

  • 1/2+ c of chickweed per person as a side dish; 1+ c as a main dish

Toss chickweed with field garlic vinaigrette. Top with hard boiled egg, pickled beets, chopped cooked bacon, candied pecans, or all of the above!

What forage are you enjoying this spring? (…if it is even spring where you live…)

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