Summer salads: How to make them zing

Owen Pidgeon
Fresh red tomatoes whole and in the context of the old painted wood surface against the green salad leaves and a metal ...
Fresh red tomatoes whole and in the context of the old painted wood surface against the green salad leaves and a metal colander Salad for Owen Pidgeon column 27 January Photo: Idijatullina Veronika

When you are preparing a salad, do you like to add leaves with tang or to provide a peppery taste. Start with a selection of loose leaf lettuce leaves and some small red-ribbed beetroot leaves and just begin adding and mixing. Let me provide a few suggestions, all of which are easy to grow in the home garden.

The secret is to sow a little and repeat the process regularly, so that you will have a good, continuing supply. All of these little vegetables grow quickly, provide them with regular feeds of liquid fertilisers, either seaweed or fish emulsion mixes. Keep the soil moist and mulch around the plants.

Leaf mustards add a tang to any salad mix. The leaves are tender with a spicy, pungent flavour. It is a quick growing summer plant which will yield small leaves in just three to four weeks. Dig in plenty of compost when preparing the bed, as the plant is a gross feeder plant. Sow the seed just 5mm deep directly into the garden bed, allowing 15cm between each plant.

Red giant mustard has large savoy crinkled leaves with a white rib running up the centre. The leaves are dark green and deep purple in colour. Osaka purple has very dark purple, round leaves which are also quite tender.

Some mustard greens are also called wasabi greens. These have quite a sweet flavour and look brilliant in a salad mix. Two good options are the golden streaks leaf mustard with finely serrated bright green to golden leaves. Ruby streaks has similar fine serrated leaves but they are dark green to burgundy in colour. Leaves can be harvested regularly in just three to fourweeks from planting.

Mizuna is a Japanese salad green which belongs to another subgroup in the mustard family. It produces a bunch of feathery, yet crisp dark green leaves and it has a mild spicy, piquant flavour. You can pick off a few leaves at a time to mix with other salad leaves. If the plant grows for longer periods, then the older leaves can be harvested and cooked like spinach. 

Rocket will also provide you with a good, peppery tasting leaf that is rich in vitamin A and C, folates, potassium and anti-oxidants. It compliments open type lettuce leaves in a mixed salad. This is also a quick growing herb which can be sown directly into the garden bed. Make sure that you pick the young, tender leaves. Pick often to promote new growth. The edible flower of rocket is also a lovely addition to an entree or added to a mixed salad bowl.

Salad burnet is a lovely little perennial which produces soft, grey leaves and tiny magenta coloured flowers. Its flavour resembles that of cucumber. Pick the leaves while still tender and young and add more zest to your salad bowl.

Try growing these in balcony planter boxes, if you have few backyard garden options or if you just want to have them handy to the kitchen. Provide a rich base soil and mix in some compost. Place the planter boxes in a sunny location but keep them well watered. Ensure that there is good drainage in the bottom of the box.

Summer zesty salad

1 mignonette lettuce
½ cup green mustard leaves
½ cup mizuna
¼ cup rocket leaves
1 medium-sized red onion
2 cloves garlic
​juice of 1 lemon
2 tsp olive oil
15 cherry tomatoes

Roughly tear up the lettuce and add in the leaf mustard, mizuna and rocket leaves. Thinly slice the red onion and add into the bowl. Crush the garlic and add to the mix. Then pour in the lemon juice and the olive oil and mix well. Slice the cherry tomatoes and add to the salad.

This week in the garden

* Try to find some space for a row of cucumbers and beans, beetroot and a selection of open leaf lettuces.

* As well as planting out brassicas for a winter crop, consider sowing a row of kohlrabi, parsnips and leek seeds.

* Maintain a regular watering program for tomatoes, to avoid blossom end rot that will set in when moisture content ranges across extremes.

* Take a look at your apple and pear trees and remove a portion of the smallest fruit if the branches are bending under the increasing weight.

* When you have time, turn your compost and add in a good quantity of green lawn clippings, any animal manure that you can obtain and as much vegetable scraps that you can secure.

Owen Pidgeon runs the Loriendale Organic Orchard near Hall.