Garden to Table

Savor the magic of spring salad season



James Stefiuk

We are fortunate to live in an area where fresh, locally grown vegetables are available year-round. Farmers’ and growers’ outdoor markets provide beautiful, bountiful displays of produce. The number of specialty grocers and food co-ops in the region continues to grow, and mainstream grocery stores have responded to customer demand with more organic produce and locally grown food. Certainly, foods that come out of nearby ground will be fresher and tastier when they land on your plate.

In addition, there are plenty among us who maintain a little patch of vegetables in the back yard — or in my case, the side yard, which faces south. In the summer, it is home to those vegetables that can take the North Florida heat and afternoon downpours: sweet and hot peppers, eggplants and a few cherry tomatoes. But from fall to spring, it’s my salad garden. Lettuces, ranging in color from pale green to dark green to red-fringed bronze; arugula and Asian salad greens in a variety of leaf textures and colors; spinach, kale, and cabbage; radishes, carrots and green onions. It’s a gorgeous palette that can sometimes seem almost too pretty to disturb — almost. Snip a few leaves for your dinner and new ones will grow in their place, providing a steady supply of salad ingredients until the heat of late spring causes these cool-weather stalwarts to set seed and the leaves become bitter. 

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Before that happens, though, there’s an almost magical window when traditional spring vegetables ripen. Fresh green peas, which my grandparents called “English peas,” snow peas, asparagus and kohlrabi are wonderful additions to the spring salad bowl.  My mom used to make a salad with iceberg lettuce, asparagus, peas and sliced boiled eggs. A creamy dressing loaded with fresh dill, an herb that does better in cool weather than warm, is a great complement.

Broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, particularly if sliced or shaved thinly, offer both color and texture variety.  Throw in some cool-weather edible blossoms, such as nasturtiums or violas, and you have a salad fit for the pages of a glossy cooking magazine. A word of caution: Make sure your flowers are edible, because not all flowers are, and that they haven’t been sprayed with pesticides. 

Most restaurants offer seasonal salads, and eateries that emphasize a “farm to fork” or “farm to table” menu particularly appreciate Spring Salad Season. The menu is determined by what’s available, and creativity reigns. Just like the chefs, you don’t have to limit yourself strictly to what is seasonal; a cucumber, tomato or sweet red pepper can enhance a spring salad. The point is to let the spring crop take center stage and use the freshest ingredients you can find. If your idea of green peas comes from the “push-around peas” of a rubber-chicken banquet, prepare to be amazed and delighted when you use fresh ones. 


Shrimp and Asparagus Salad with Wasabi Mayo
Mary Thweatt is a professional chef and the owner of Edible Bay Catering and Personal Chef Services in Panama City Beach. She was trained at the Culinary Institute of America and at the InTavola Cooking School in Tuscany and has been cooking for over 30 years. Her recipe, “Shrimp and Asparagus Salad with Wasabi Mayo,” uses fresh Gulf shrimp.

To find out more about Edible Bay, visit ediblebay.com or call (850) 303-9513.

INGREDIENTS

  • ¼ cup kosher salt
  • ¼ cup Old Bay Seasoning
  • 1 lemon, quartered
  • 2 pounds large shrimp (16–20 per pound)
  • 1 pound thin asparagus, trimmed
  • 1 ½ cups mayonnaise
  • 1 cup red onion, minced
  • 2 Tbsp. soy sauce
  • 2 tsp. sugar
  • 2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tsp. wasabi paste (sold in tubes in most stores’ produce aisle)

DIRECTIONS
Bring 5 quarts of water to a boil. Add salt, Old Bay Seasoning, lemon and shrimp. Cook approximately 2 minutes, then add asparagus and cook an additional 2 minutes or until asparagus is tender. Drain shrimp and asparagus and place in a bowl of cold water to stop cooking. Peel and devein the shrimp; chop shrimp and asparagus and set aside. 

In a separate bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, red onion, soy sauce, sugar, lemon juice and wasabi paste. Add chopped shrimp and asparagus and combine well. Refrigerate for a few hours; serve over mixed spring greens. Enjoy!

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