During the long, cold dark days of winter, my family leans on sturdy roots, sweet butternut squash, and hearty soups and stews, so by the time the snows recede and the green shoots and buds of spring begin to emerge in the warming light, we’re ready for something decidedly lighter, fresher and brighter.
Springtime is for Leaves and Little Roots, Peas and Flowers
This is the time that I begin to lean more heavily on salads, huge salads dotted with young carrots, thinly sliced radishes, fresh peas and any other spring vegetables I come across at the market. Herbs, too, make nice additions to salads, serving as a nice contrast to crunchy leaves of lettuce.
Fresh Herbs for Springtime Salads
Herbs pack powerful medicine. Like all leafy greens, they’re rich in minerals, beta carotene, and folate. They’re also rich in antioxidants, and various organic compounds that given them their perfumed aroma and assertive flavor. Rosemary Gladstar’s book, Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health, is one of my favorite resources for accessible, practical recipes for using and understanding both the culinary and medicinal use of common (and some uncommon) herbs and spices.
When herbs grow in abundance, typically in the spring and summer in our area, I use them liberally – dropping them into salads, making heady herbal tisanes and sun teas, sprinkling roasts and braised vegetables with them. In this salad, I used what I kept handy: chives, mint, flat-leaf parsley and feathery chervil.
A Dressing of Crème Fraîche, Lemon and Herbs
Thick creamy dressings stand up well to another springtime favorite: Buttercrunch lettuce, with its big, tender leaves. Vinaigrettes seem to fall flat with this type of lettuce, dripping off into the bottom of the salad bowl rather than lightly coating the leaves like a good creamy dressing does.
Most creamy dressings rely on an emulsion of eggs and oil, much like mayonnaise, to achieve their thickness, but this dressing – always a favorite for its ability to come together in an instant of whisking – achieves its thickness from creme fraiche, whisked with a bit of oil and lemon juice and zest.
Like yogurt, creme fraiche is a cultured dairy product that you can make in your own kitchen with a bit of cream and starter culture. You can purchase a starter culture here, or do what most chefs do and simply whisk a bit of buttermilk into cream, cover it, and leave it until thickened, about a day or so.
I love to add something a little crispy, and a little salty to salads, as well as something that makes salads a touch more substantial and satisfying like walnuts added to roasted beet salad or pecans added to this autumn salad. Prosciutto, crisped in a hot cast iron skillet, provides a lovely complement for the bright flavors of fresh herbs and sweet peas.
Spring Salad with Creamy Lemon-Herb Dressing
For the Dressing
- 3 tablespoons creme fraiche
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh chives
- 2 teaspoons minced fresh mint
- 2 teaspoons minced fresh chervil
- 1 lemon
- 1/2 teaspoon finely ground sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon finely ground white pepper
For the Salad
- 4 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto sliced cross-wise into 1-inch strips
- 1 head buttercrunch lettuce torn into bite-sized pieces
- 3 spring onions white and light-green parts only, sliced thin
- 4 radishes sliced thin
- 1 cup cooked shelled green peas
- 1 cup edible flowers such as snapdragons, rose petals, and pansies
- 1/4 cup loosely packed parsley leaves
- 1/4 cup loosely packed mint leaves
- Spoon the creme fraiche into a mixing bowl, whisk in the olive oil, chives, mint and chervil. Grate the lemon peel very finely into the bowl with the creme fraiche. Cut the lemon cross-wise, and then squeeze its juice into a bowl or small pitcher. Strain the juice to remove the pulp and pips, and pour the juice into a mixing bowl. Whisk the lemon juice, salt and white pepper into the dressing, and set it aside until you’re ready to dress the salad.
- Heat a cast iron skillet over high heat. When pre-heated, drop in the prosciutto, and cook it until crisped. Set it on a plate to cool while you prepare the other ingredients.
- Toss the vegetables, flowers and herbs together. Toss in the crispec prosciutto, and dress with the creme fraiche dressing at the table.