Sunday, April 8, 2007
Edible Dianthus: Salads in the Pink
We are celebrating our first homegrown salad!!
The mesclun lettuce mix that I sowed not so long ago has grown till the tray is overflowing. I'm not sure what size the leaves should be when ready to harvest, but after waiting as long as I could hold out, I got scissors and harvested a whole flat (the flats are smallish). I'm not even sure how to do that, so I basically gave all the lettuces a "haircut." The leaves were 5 to 6 inches long, but they had small shoots at the base of each set of leaves, so I was wanting to see if I could harvest the bigger leaves and still allow the other small leaves to mature further.
I'm wondering if, since this was a mix, the longest leaves were all one sort of lettuce and the others were farther behind. Most of what I picked were smooth and oval green leaves with a taste mildly of lemony spinach. Whatever it was, it was good!
I washed the leaves and let them dry between paper toweling...we harvested a big salad bowlful. I harvested some of the smaller of the lemon balm leaves and also dianthus flowerheads from the four dianthus we have.
I originally bought the dianthus, also known by the old-fashioned term "pinks," as small starter plants to plant between peppers last fall in order to attract pollinators. I'd never tried them as such, and wanted to plant other flowers in addition to marigolds. I really wasn't sure they'd survive the heat, or the winter, but they really got their second wind a month or so ago and have been blooming and blooming. When the peppers were long gone, the dianthus were still going strong.
Their tenacity and bright blooms led me to investigate the dianthus online. It's in the carnation family of flowers, except that the blooms are much smaller. The blooms are also edible, which surprised me. As starry and fringed bursts of color, they really add beauty to salads, their carmine, white, and fuschia splashes as beautiful as they are tasty. Ours taste mild and fragrant. It's described as clove-like, which I'd say is fairly accurate. My husband really likes the taste, which I found surprising.
I wasn't sure how to add a dianthus bloom to a dish, so I harvested them right at the bases of the individual blooms, one bloom at a time, and washed them gently in cool water. After drying in paper toweling, I pinched the base of the bloom off along with the enclosed white tips, which separates the petals. They separate into individual petals which are triangular and fringed at the broad bloom end. The colors are vivid and the effect when tossed among fresh salad leaves, is transforming. Suddenly a plain salad LOOKS like a show-stopper, and knowing all the ingredients are homegrown and organic rounds out the pleasure of the taste-testing!
The pinched-off ends are tougher, but I'm thinking they might be used as a caper-like condiment if pickled. If I do many more, I might try that and see.
Our first salad (EVER...Hoorayyy!!!) was a dewy toss of fresh-picked mesclun, dianthus, and minced lemon balm. YUM... :) With a touch of vinaigrette, it was a celebration!
Pictures from these links: