Spring, at the Last Minute

Yes, it really is spring. Finally.

I know that in less than a week it will technically be summer, but spring itself has been a long time in coming. First it was exceptionally cold and rainy, and then it was exceptionally hot and violently stormy, and in neither of those conditions were any spring vegetables available except for salad greens and occasional rhubarb.

Now, though, there are actually strawberries at the farmers’ markets, not to mention tiny carrots, multicolored radishes and asparagus in myriad sizes. This weekend I even bought some eensy little baby zucchini–THAT made me believe that summer really is on the way, even though today’s high was only in the 60s.

The weird weather, though, has meant that my meals are not as aggressively seasonal as they usually are at this time of year. I’ve had to augment my market-purchased greens with store-bought vegetables, just to vary the salad rut. On the cold days I’ve fallen back on over-wintered, somewhat unfortunate roots and pomme fruits (I’m beginning to be tired of apples), and on hot days I’ve guiltily eaten greenhouse-grown eggplant from much too far away.

Last Wednesday, though, I ate a meal that was almost 100% spring. At the morning market I picked up a small box of sugar snap peas and a small box of shelling peas, along with a bunch of spring onions, a sheaf of fresh dill and a bag of crunchy baby romaine lettuce. When I got home, I chopped the sugar snaps, shelled the remaining peas, and put both into a large salad bowl. I quartered the head of romaine, then sliced the quarters into chunks. I finely minced some of the dill and haphazardly sliced two or three spring onions, slicing finely only near the bulb. The lettuce and aromatics went into the bowl with the peas. Enamored by the crunchy sweetness of the sugar-snap peas and romaine, I went in search of more crunch and found a can of water chestnuts in the cupboard. I drained and chopped the water chestnuts and threw them in as well.

It was shaping up to be a delicious salad. I probably could have stopped here, but I needed some protein as well. I’ve seen a similar recipe that included bacon, but that fat, delicious though it might be, didn’t seem to fit with the clean, springy aesthetic of the salad. I liked the idea of a light smokiness, though, so I decided on some smoked turkey I had in the fridge. I cut a couple of ounces of the meat into pieces similar in size to the sliced sugar snap peas.

The salad now had every component except for dressing. The smoked turkey, the dill and the peas made me think of creamy casseroles; to work in the same mouth-feel and similar flavors, but without the heaviness of a cream sauce, I added a few tablespoons of mayonnaise, a squeeze of lemon juice, salt and pepper. One quick stir to coat the salad with the dressing, and the salad was complete.

Spring Pea Salad

It really was spring in a bowl. The fresh crunchiness of the sugar snap peas, water chestnuts and lettuce ribs contrasted with the yielding chew of the shelled peas and the smoked turkey, the pungency of the spring onions and the grassiness of the dill. The dressing was both creamy and tangy, and that tied all the ingredients together. The entire bowl–an enormous pudding basin–disappeared in an instant, and I could have eaten almost twice as much again. To finish? Two or three perfect strawberries, dripping with juice and perfectly balanced between sweet and tart.

I want to eat another salad as seasonally rooted as this, but I don’t know where to start. I’ll be going to one more farmer’s market before the first day of spring; hopefully I’ll find inspiration amidst the stalls.

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Published in: on June 16, 2008 at 7:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

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