Friday, April 09, 2010

In Season NW: Learning to Love Weeds

Growing up, anything that was growing in the yard that wasn't identifiable as grass was declared a weed and was summarily yanked or sprayed or otherwise executed on the spot. Not to say that in our zeal we didn't occasionally rip out one of my mother's prize peonies or a ranunculus or two. And all of us knew from repeated finger-shaking lectures that all weeds were poisonous and would cause painful convulsions followed by death if eaten. Period.

That impression was only fortified later on when there was a flurry of dandelion winemaking resulting in a foul-tasting brew that wasn't even worth drinking for the buzz from the alcohol. So imagine my confusion when I visited my soon-to-be-relatives in Maine and they served up a pile of little green swirls they called fiddleheads, the tiny furled fronds of ferns that were gathered next to icy streams with exotic names like Meduxnekeag.

Suffice it to say that from then on I put childish things behind me and became fascinated with all edible "weeds" to the point where, if I saw some growing in a parking strip, I'd stop dead in my tracks, checking for any telltale signs of marking by dogs, and pick and eat one then and there, much to my son's chagrin.

One of these, claytonia perfoliata or miner's lettuce (above left), is now being grown by several vendors at the farmers' markets in much more sanitary surroundings, and I try to pick up several bunches when I see them. Recently they formed the bed of a beet salad that I served with a pork and couscous tagine, providing a colorful contrast as well as a satisfying crunchiness to the sweet richness of the beets.

Roasted Beet Salad with Miner's Lettuce and Honey Mustard Dressing

For the salad:
3 medium-sized beets
1 bunch miner's lettuce or other leafy greens

For the dressing:
Juice of 1 large lemon
1 1/2 Tbsp. honey
1 tsp. whole-grain mustard
1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 400°. Wash beets to remove any dirt clinging to them. Wrap each one, drizzled with a bit of olive oil, in a piece of aluminum foil and place in small roasting pan or glass baking dish. Roast for approx. 1 hour, testing occasionally with a fork. When tender but not mushy remove from oven and cool. Cut in 1/2" or smaller cubes and place in medium-sized mixing bowl.

Combine the lemon juice, honey, mustard, and olive oil in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Shake until well combined. Alternatively, place the lemon juice, honey, and mustard in a bowl. Whisk to combine. Add olive oil in a slow, steady stream until dressing is emulsified.

Pour dressing over beets and mix to combine. This can be done ahead and refrigerated until ready to serve. Make a bed of the washed and dried miner's lettuce or other greens, top with a pile of the cubed beets and serve.

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