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VPR Cafe: Finding Fresh Greens In The Winter

Melissa Pasanen
Fresh greens are becoming more readily available during winter like those grown at Red Wagon Plants in Hinesburg, VT.

It used to be that finding fresh, local greens during winter in Vermont wasn't even an option. But Vermont Life's food editor, Melissa Pasanen, explains that's not so much the case these days.

In this episode of The VPR Cafe, Pasanen tells us where these fresh winter greens are coming from and how you can grow them yourself. We'll also hear about "The Salad Club" at Red Wagon Plants in Hinesburg; a place that feels like springtime in winter.

Click the links below to hear previous VPR Cafe episodes that Pasanen refers to:

VPR Cafe: How To Grow Salad Greens Inside In The Winter

VPR Cafe: Rekindling The Garden Spark

And here's even more from Melissa Pasanen about this episode:

Julie Rubaud, owner of Red Wagon Plants in Hinesburg, offers organic greenhouse-cultivated salad greens, shoots and herbs through the winter to members of her subscription Salad Club and also via some retailers (mostly herbs and some shoots). She offered a few tips and a couple salad dressing recipes she finds particularly useful in the winter.

Julie, who is originally from France, believes in making salads with tender, fresh, winter greens beautiful and not overly complicated. “Keep it simple or you miss the point,” she says.

Combine fresh greens with winter root vegetables. Julie usually roasts, boils or steams a big batch of root vegetables like beets or turnips at the beginning of each week to have on hand. She also likes to do quick, simple marinades of cooked vegetables; raw, sliced onions or carrots with a little acid and some whole branches of dried herbs.

Store salad greens trimmed, washed and spun dry so you can quickly throw together a salad.

Use scissors to snip fresh herbs into your salads. And consider keeping a pot of an easy-to-grow herbs, like cilantro, on a windowsill to snip your own fresh.

Dress each component separately and build layers. This will ensure that root vegetable and greens each get a good amount of dressing and the heavy items don’t sink to the bottom of the salad. Toss the delicate greens gently with hands or two forks so “stuff is respected,” Julie says.

“Part of it is making it pretty,” says Julie. A variety of textures, colors and height on the plate are all important to making it appealing to eat. Color, especially, she says, is so important in the winter.

Season well with flaky sea salt like Maldon and freshly ground black pepper.

The three salads Julie demonstrated recently were:

  • Pea shoots + boiled beets marinated overnight with cider vinegar and thyme + raw carrots thinly sliced marinated overnight in lemon juice + onions pickled overnight with vinegar, dried thyme, peppercorns, a pinch of sugar and a garlic clove + thinly sliced, raw watermelon radish + fresh snipped cilantro + tahini-sesame dressing (see recipe below).
  • Sunflower shoots + steamed purple-top turnips + fresh parsley + Dijon-walnut oil vinaigrette (see recipe below). Dress each part individually and season with lots of black pepper and flaky salt. (Julie noted that toasted pumpkin seeds would add nice crunch here.)
  • A simple mix of fresh greens like mizuna, Tokyo bekana, red garnet mustard greens and fresh mint leaves tossed by hand with hazelnut oil and topped with flaky salt. The greens are sharp enough, no acid is needed. Julie likes to eat this one with her hands, in the French style.

Here are two more recipes for you to try at home:
1. Red Wagon Plants Tahini-Sesame Dressing

Whisk or shake together:

1/4 cup tahini

1/2 cup sesame oil

1/2 cup rice vinegar

Juice from 1 lemon or lime, or 1/4 cup cider vinegar

2 tablespoons tamari

1 teaspoon sugar (optional)

1 pinch cayenne or splash hot sauce

2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced

1 tablespoon fresh ginger, finely grated

2. Red Wagon Plants Dijon Vinaigrette

Combine in jar with a tight fitting lid and “shake like mad”:

1/2 cup red wine or sherry vinegar

1 heaping tablespoon Dijon mustard

Salt and pepper to taste

Add and shake again:

3/4 cup walnut oil

Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.

Note: For escarole, radicchio or other sturdy greens, Julie adds one large clove garlic, pressed or finely minced and lets the salad sit for about 20 minutes so the dressing softens the greens. Add a little ham, Gruyère cheese and walnuts and you have a “completely” French-style salad, she says.

Ric was a producer for Vermont Edition and host of the VPR Cafe.
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