Any time is the best time to enjoy the leafy greens grown year-round by local producers.
By Cinda Chavich
Have you planted your lettuce yet? Put in the winter kale, radicchio and tatsoi?
It may seem counterintuitive to think about salads in September, when farmers are harvesting squash and brussels sprouts, but in this part of the world you can enjoy fresh-from-the-garden baby lettuces, arugula and other tender salad greens, or rainbow chard, Asian mustard greens, curly kale, frisée, endive, arugula and broccoli sprouts all year round.
“We have an acre of winter greens,” says Robin Tunnicliffe of Sea Bluff Farm, one of the Saanich Organics farms that offers greens from their farm stands and weekly city markets throughout the year. “I do winter romaine to have all winter, endive, radicchio, mustard greens — just seed in the fall and they will go all year.”
Greens, you see, love our mild Island climate. There’s no need to rely on salad greens imported from California, Mexico and points south when so many local growers offer a fresh supply.
You can grow a variety of sweet, spicy and crunchy winter greens in your home garden, too. They are quick and easy to grow, and even tastier and less likely to bolt or go to seed when the weather is cooler.
Seeds of the Revolution, the seed-growing arm of Saanich Organics, selects their seeds from plants and varieties that have survived Victoria’s cool and rainy winters, says Tunnicliffe. Chard and kale are among the hardiest winter greens, but indigenous miner’s lettuce and corn salad (a.k.a. mâche) add exciting flavour to winter salad bowls.
“Corn salad is an important green in France,” she says. “It’s like a lettuce, but can literally be frozen and survive. ”
The Plot Thickens
At The Plot Market Garden in Saanich, Emily Harris and her partner Tyler Browne have perfected the business of intensively growing salad greens in a small space. When I visited them in early spring, they were well into production of a new crop of baby greens, rows of oak leaf lettuce, tatsoi and mizuna, all hardy plants that thrive in cool conditions in their unheated poly greenhouses.
“Greens are a super successful and rewarding crop to grow here on the Island,” says Harris.
Starting with just one acre (and expanding to two acres this year), Harris and Browne have turned what is essentially a large home garden into a business, supplying chefs, small grocers and CSA box customers with their “salad-forward vegetables.”
Masters of zero-till, carbon-capture farming, they’re proving that growing in an organic, regenerative way, harvesting greens by hand, is both sustainable and profitable.
“Our small farm uses electric hand tools, no-spray, non-GMO and no-till practices to minimize our carbon footprint and improve soil health and biodiversity,” says Harris, noting they received a Saanich Environment Award for their business leadership in environmentally sustainable food production.
“We do ‘cut and come again,’ ” she adds as Browne demonstrates a hand-propelled harvester that shears the leaves from the young plants, leaving the root and crown that will soon sprout a new crop. At home, says Harris, it’s easy to do with kitchen shears — the lettuces will “come again,” with new leaves for a second or third harvest.
Direct seeding starts in early spring, under the protection of a poly hoop house, and progresses with weekly planting until October.
The Plot supplies restaurants and small retailers like Niche Grocerant and House of Boateng. Consumers can also have their CSA vegetable boxes delivered weekly or order their baby kale, spring mix, arugula or spicy mesclun mix or Asian mustard greens from the online store.
Innovative Greens Growers
Local growers Like The Plot have embraced the business of growing greens in many innovative ways. Beyond intensive field crops, farmers are growing greens in shipping containers, in vertical farms and even sprouting from outdoor pyramids in city parks.
The latter is something you might have noticed while strolling through the gardens at Government House, where Allan Murr is producing greens using a system he designed himself.
Murr once produced commercial basil and lettuces on his aeroponic pyramids in Saanich and sold the patented pyramids around the world. But in recent years he’s partnered with the City of Victoria and its Get Growing program, launching the non-profit Harvest & Share Food Relief Society, a charitable organization that grows greens, herbs, bok choy, chard and cherry tomatoes for Victoria food banks and community kitchens.
The charity also partnered with Glenlyon Norfolk School students this year to grow lettuce hydroponically in the school’s underground parking area, a science project producing fresh greens to share with other school children through the Backpack Buddies program.
It’s a way to get fresh local greens into the hands of people who might not otherwise be able to afford this kind of healthy food.
The pyramids, each four by four feet square at the base, stand on special tables filled with a nutrient-rich solution that’s sprayed inside the structure to reach the roots of the plants. Each pyramid can hold 136 plants in its “grow ports” so the 28 planters at Government House simultaneously grow a crop of 3,800 plants in a space of just 1,100 square feet.
While Murr oversees the operation, volunteers help to plant and harvest the food. Murr says the society hopes to replicate the pyramid garden on the rooftops of downtown buildings this year.
Growing fresh greens is an easy way to improve local food security and the city offers grants — even soil and seedlings — to support urban agriculture programs, community gardens and other food-production initiatives on both public and private lands.
Greens on the Menu
When the price of imported lettuce skyrocketed late last year — a shortage of iceberg and romaine due to problems with weather and disease in California crops — restaurants across Canada took salads off the menu. Even fast food burger chains and sandwich shops struggled to find a solution as the wholesale price for a case of lettuce tripled to $140 and higher.
But Island restaurants and consumers had an edge, thanks to the nearly year-round supplies of fresh greens.
The other bonus to buying Island greens is variety, quality and shelf life. Chefs love them because they’re crisp, flavourful and will last in the fridge for a week or two, unlike imported mixed greens.
Local lettuces, chard and kale are de rigueur on many of the best restaurant menus. Among them: the classic Rebar salad, a big green salad loaded with healthy grated veggies, nuts and seeds; the HOB salad at House of Boateng with The Plot Market Garden greens, avocado, pickled fiddleheads, soft-boiled egg and chermoula; or the daily layered salad-in-a-jar lunch to take away at Deer & Dough Bakery.
The Ruby on Douglas serves a Cobb salad with mixed greens, bacon, avocado, blue cheese crumbs and house rotisserie chicken breast. Café Brio offers butter lettuce salad topped with garlic bread crumbs and lemon pepper vinaigrette, while Chorizo & Co. serves salad greens as they do in Spain, with a simple splash of aged sherry vinegar, arbequina olive oil and sea salt.
Many local chefs have even created their own specialty dressings.
Wild Mountain Food + Drink in Sooke has a line of organic vinaigrettes (available in fig leaf, red wine, parsnip and malted apple flavours) featuring vinegars naturally fermented by chef Oliver Kienast, and honey from his family’s farm. Find them at some speciality stores or at Wild Mountain’s online store.
Chef Castro Boateng’s curry vanilla or orange miso dressings are now available in jars from their HOB Fine Foods storefront in Langford, and at several grocers around town; meanwhile, Charlotte & the Quail’s popular engevita dressing is available at the restaurant.
Meanwhile Chef Zachary Kenneth of Elk & The Tide Catering Co. adds just a touch of truffle oil to his highly popular dressing, perfect for adding flavour to anything from greens to rice, potatoes or veggies.
Grow Your Own
Whether you pick up the fresh greens at their urban farms stand downtown or take transplants home to your garden from their edible nursery, Mason Street Farm is a go-to for an amazing selection of leafy greens. They include kale, chard and their famous Mason Mixer salad blend (on many chefs’ menus), which includes red and green romaine, red gem and tri-coloured butterhead lettuce.
You can also grow your greens from seed in small pots to transplant or seed directly in the garden. Look for the winter greens mix from Seeds of the Revolution or the cool-weather lettuce blend from Full Circle Seeds, grown at ALM Organic Farm Sooke, plants that will overwinter in a cold frame in our climate. Like Saanich Organics or Mason Street Farm they have seedlings for sale, too.
When you start with transplants, you can start harvesting greens in a few short weeks. Use the “cut and come again” method to harvest and your plants will continue to sprout new leaves for many weeks.
The trick to having a continuous crop of tender, young greens is to keep planting — every three weeks, says Harris. Lettuces are some of the easiest things you can produce in a home garden, and thrive in raised beds and pots. The more substantial winter greens, such as kale, mustard, arugula and various Asian greens, continue to grow even as fall days get colder. And don’t forget to harvest the leaves of young beets, Japanese hakurei turnips and radishes to add something spicy or bitter to your salad suppers.
So don’t worry about the changing seasons — here on the mild West Coast, it’s always a good time to grow, and eat, your greens.
The Big Green
When fresh lettuces are available at the market (or from the garden), combine as many as possible for this complex layered salad that can be served in a big bowl family style or individually plated for a fancier dinner. Leaf lettuce, baby turnip greens and romaine offer both flavour and texture contrasts. Include watercress, mustard greens or arugula for a nice peppery bite, or pick some nasturtium leaves from the flower bed for a similar spicy zing.
• cup extra virgin olive oil
• ¼ cup orange juice, preferably freshly squeezed
• 1 Tbsp lemon juice
• 1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
• 2 tsp honey or maple syrup
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
• 8 cups mixed salad greens (include crunchy and tender lettuces, bitter greens and something spicy like turnip tops or nasturtium leaves)
• 1 ripe pear (regular or Asian)
• 1 avocado, peeled and cubed
• 1 tsp lemon juice
• Dressing, divided, to taste
• 2 cups pea shoots or other microgreens
• ½ cup chopped chives or green onions (about 3 green onions)
• cup toasted pine nuts, sunflower seeds or almonds
Whirl the dressing ingredients together in a blender to emulsify or combine in a small jar and shake. Set aside.
Wash the greens well in a sink full of cold water and spin dry in a salad spinner. If not using them right away, pack loosely in a plastic bag with a piece of paper towel, seal and refrigerate for several hours or overnight. This will ensure your salad stays crisp.
When you’re ready to serve the salad: Core the pear and slice it very thin, leaving the skin on, and then cut into flat batons or 1-inch squares.
Peel the avocado and cut into thin slices or slivers. Toss the avocado with the lemon juice to prevent it from discolouring.
In a large salad bowl, toss the mixed greens with a little dressing to combine well. Top with pea shoots, green onions and pine nuts. Add the pear and avocado, and drizzle with more dressing. Serves 6.
Arugula Salad with Peppered, Hot-Smoked Salmon
Here’s a substantial salad from Andrea Duncan and Andrea Mackenzie (a.k.a. the Andreas), the talented
chefs at Niche Grocerant. There’s always an amazing salad or two on the lunch menu at Niche, and you can buy fresh local greens and dressings in their hyper-local grocery out front. For this recipe, note that you will need to make the pickled shallots a day before serving.
• 6 to 8 peeled shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
• 1 small beet, peeled and thinly sliced
• 1 cup white vinegar
• 1 cup water
• 1 Tbsp kosher salt
• 2 tsp sugar
• 3 to 4 slices of focaccia (preferably from Pagliacci’s) Lemon, honey and caper vinaigrette:
• ¼ cup chopped capers with 1 Tbsp of the brine
• 1 clove garlic, grated on a microplane
• ¼ cup vegetable oil
• Juice and finely grated zest of 1 lemon
• 2 Tbsp honey
• 1 Tbsp grainy mustard
• Salt and pepper to taste
• 8 oz arugula (preferably from Saanich Organics)
• 6 hard-boiled eggs (preferably from Lockwood Farms), coarsely chopped
• 1 cup focaccia croutons
• Vinaigrette to taste
• 8 oz peppered, hot-smoked salmon (from a quality seafood market like Finest at Sea, or make your own), broken into bite-sized pieces
• ¼ cup pickled shallots
Make the pickled shallots: Place beets and shallots in a medium-sized heatproof and nonreactive bowl. Place remaining ingredients (vinegar, water, salt and sugar) in a small pot over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and pour over beets and shallots. Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate. Let them sit for at least a day to pickle.
Note that this is a quick pickle, which will keep up to two weeks, chilled.
Make the focaccia croutons: Preheat oven to 350°F. Cut focaccia into small cubes and place in an even layer on a sheet pan. Bake until dry and golden, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.
Make the vinaigrette: Whisk all ingredients in a bowl until combined, and set aside until needed.
To assemble the salad: Toss the arugula, egg and croutons with the vinaigrette in a large bowl. Divide between two to four plates. Arrange pieces of salmon and slices of pickled shallot over top. Serves 2 to 4 as a main course or 4 to 6 as a starter.
This simple salad is a classic bistro dish from the French city of Lyon. Make it when you have bacon, eggs and sturdy greens for a healthy, satisfying supper, with a fresh baguette on the side. From The Waste Not, Want Not Cookbook by Cinda Chavich.
• 2 thick slices side pork (pork belly) or smoky bacon, cut into ¼-inch strips or cubes
• 1 shallot, minced
• 2 Tbsp white wine vinegar, divided
• 2 to 3 Tbsp olive oil (depending on how much fat renders from your bacon)
• 2 tsp Dijon mustard
• 4 eggs
• 1 head frisée (curly endive), or a mix of sturdy greens (endive, spinach, dandelion, arugula, radicchio, etc.), torn into bite-size pieces (about 4 to 6 cups)
• Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
In a skillet over medium heat, fry the side pork or bacon until crisp. Remove to a plate lined with paper towel, reserving the fat in the pan.
In the same pan, sauté the shallot in the remaining bacon fat for 3 minutes over medium heat. Remove pan from heat and whisk in 1 Tbsp of the white wine vinegar, the olive oil and the mustard. (If there isn’t much fat rendered from the bacon, use the larger amount of olive oil.) Set aside on low heat to keep warm.
Combine the greens in a bowl.
Fill a straight-sided 10-inch sauté pan with 2 inches of water. Add the remaining 1 Tbsp white vinegar and bring the liquid to a bare simmer (not a rolling boil). Gently crack the eggs into small dishes or teacups and slip them one at a time into the water, taking care not to break the yolks. Cover the pan and let the eggs cook until the whites have set and the yolk is done to the desired consistency, 3 to 5 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove the eggs from the water.
Toss the frisée with the warm vinaigrette, then divide among 4 shallow bowls.
Place 1 egg on each portion of dressed salad greens. Sprinkle the crispy pork evenly over each salad and season with salt and pepper. Serves 4.
Kale Salad with Engevita Dressing
Engevita, or nutritional yeast, is the backbone of this delicious dressing, which gets a hit of umami from miso. There are no eggs, cheese or anchovies in this combo, but it makes a vegan Caesar-style salad sing. Feel free to add other vegetables to this salad, such as cubed roasted beets or shredded carrots, or include mustard greens and arugula in the mix.
• 8 cups kale leaves
• Salt (optional)
• Toasted croutons (optional)
• Toasted sesame or sunflower seeds (optional)
• ¼ cup nutritional yeast (engevita)
• 3 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
• 3 Tbsp soy sauce
• 3 Tbsp water
• 1 Tbsp white miso (or substitute tahini)
• 1 large clove garlic, minced
• ½ cup oil (olive, avocado, canola)
Strip the leaves from the kale stems and rip into small pieces. Place in a bowl. (Compost the kale stems or keep them for stock.) For tougher leaves, sprinkle with salt and squeeze/massage them with your hands to break down and soften slightly before dressing.
To make the dressing: In a blender, combine yeast, vinegar, soy sauce, water, miso and garlic and, with machine running, slowly add the oil to emulsify and form a creamy dressing.
You can also combine ingredients in a wide-mouth jar and use an immersion blender to emulsify, or just put everything into a small jar and shake well to combine. Refrigerate dressing in a covered container for up to 2 weeks. Shake to recombine if needed.
Drizzle dressing over kale leaves, and toss with croutons or seeds to serve. Serves 4.