Better Know a Salad Green, Mache 101
So it’s January and we are all trying to eat a little better. Or at least we all said we would. If you live just about anywhere in the US, you have been experiencing colder than usual temperatures, which seem to make it impossible to stop craving comfort food. I know, here in Minnesota we have been in the subzero darkness for weeks, in a landscape coated with dirty, rutted ice. Hard core joggers can still be spotted picking their way among the ankle twisting icescapes, I figure they are endorphin addicts who just can’t stop.
So where my sunlight-deprived mind is going with this is toward a food that will save me. When the world around you begins to feel like one large hibernation chamber, your natural response is to eat hibernation food. Cravings for comfort food are constant, whether to balm the sting of all the cold with mashed potatoes, or to bulk up against the bitter winds by building a parka-like layer of fat out of creamy casseroles, I can’t say.
We call them “hotdish” in Minnesota, by the way.
But while we know we are craving something, maybe it is actually a great salad. In fact, I will shamelessly advocate now for a California import. Sorry locavores, but we only have one local lettuce grower in winter and it gets old.
Mache, corn salad, lamb’s lettuce, field salad, doucette, or lamb’s tongue, whatever you call it, Mache is the green for me these days. The deep green, succulent leaves are said to resemble a lamb’s tongue, which must be very small. The green grows in little rosettes, formed from leaves that are either shaped like a little round spoon or a longer oval. The taste is sweet and nutty, without any bitterness. Buttery, for a green, and tender in texture.
Just what I need to comfort me in my arctic encampment.
I first had mache in Europe, so I will always associate it with a streetside cafe in Paris, and with the corner market in East Berlin where I bought it in plastic boxes and ate it by the handful. Mache is actually a common weed that probably originated in Eurasia, and still grows wild in North Africa, West Asia, and most of Europe, and has taken up residence on both coasts in the US. It was a foraged green, wildcrafted until Louis XIV’s gardener planted it and brought it to us all. Now you can get the seeds and grow your own, or buy the somewhat pricey greens that are grown in California.
So why mache, and not spinach or mesclun? Well, to start with, mache has 1/3 more iron than spinach, and offers high levels of B-9 and Omega-3. B-9 is folic acid, which we hear about for preventing birth defects, but it’s good for everybody-and thought to prevent depression and fatigue. The Omega-3′ are also good for the brain, keeping those neurons communicating, promoting heart health, and all that. And it’s got high levels of calcium, potassium, fiber and lots of other good stuff.
So while the weather outside is frightening, I can trek to my local grocer and buy some French weeds via California, and dine on some delicious greens that just might stave off the despair that deep winter can bring. Maybe I should invest in one of those hydroponic growing kits. I promise, I’ll get back to the Better Boy hydroponic lettuce, after this little treat.
SIMPLE MACHE SALAD
When you buy a green as tasty as Mache, just dress it simply with really good oil and vinegar or lemon. Sometimes I don’t even put on the vinegar or lemon, just coat the leaves with nut oil and sprinkle it with fleur de sel. The mildness of the green makes it pretty wine-friendly, too.
4 ounces of mache
1 sliced apple, orange, or other fruit
a handful of toasted nuts
About 1 tablespoon of either walnut oil, extra virgin olive oil, or flax oil
About 1 tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice
coarse salt, freshly cracked black pepper
Pile the salad in a large bowl and drizzle on the oil, and toss it, massaging it gently with your hands. Drizzle on the vinegar or lemon and toss again, to coat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and eat.