The 28-Day Salad: Sustainable and Fun

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Photo by Sean Fraga

In a world of 30-minute meals, 40-minute workouts, and two weeks to losing 25 pounds of stomach fat, I want to propose the 28-day salad. The 28-day salad might sound like the epitome of sloooow food (you ask, "Doesn't it take only five minutes to throw together a salad?") but I'm talking about growing your own. Salad greens are an agricultural wonder: They make it to the table in the blink of an eye. You don't need to wait through flowers, pollination, or fruit. You eat the leaf. For a beginning gardener, salad is a great way to start and to get some quick satisfaction as you wait for your tomatoes to mature.

If you plant now, you can serve home-grown salad in June.

If you've eaten mixed greens from farmers' market or supermarket, you'll note there are a variety of textures and colors. What might be less obvious is that greens are chosen also for weight and loft. When you are selling greens by the pound, you know that spinach and kale are heavy, and lettuces are light. Loft is the grower's--and the chef's--term for a green's ability to fill a bag, or to stand on a plate. Some greens, like spinach, shingle together, lying flat and unimpressive. Others give height and airiness to a salad. Growers and chefs want some loft. So do you when you are paying $9 for a salad at the local restaurant.

You will feel anxious about this salad if you're a new gardener. But on Day 28, you'll feel exultant as you harvest.

This spring, I am happily infatuated with a salad mix of pea shoots, Bordeaux spinach, Red Russian kale, and early mizuna. The pea shoots are precisely that: the young shoots of pea plants. But they taste just like peas, and you don't need to wait as long. You can harvest them at 19 days. The Bordeaux spinach has a thin red vein running down the center, adding color to the mix. Red Russian kale, if eaten early in the season, is sweet and tender. The mizuna is clean and green tasting, and it adds some loft. You'll want lots of it.

If you are wondering where to get these seeds, try Johnny's Selected Seeds. If you call today, their pleasant staff will get you seeds before the week is done. (I don't mess with pre-mixed seed packages. I like choosing my own mixes of seeds. I find the germination is more even, and the tending and harvesting is easier, when I segregate different varieties in the garden.)

Get your bed ready on one day and plant the next. If you don't have garden space, you can grow in planters on a fire escape or a stoop.

You will feel anxious about this salad if you are a new gardener. Keep a look out three or four days after planting. It'll be up. You'll feel anxious again on Day 14 as those seedlings put out their real leaves. And on Day 28, you'll feel exultant as you harvest. The greens will be about three to four inches long, which is just right.

If you miss the harvest, or it gets unseasonably hot, and the greens get too large or too tough for salad, sauté them instead. Chef Ming Tsai recently made a three-course meal around Yale Farm greens at his restaurant Blue Ginger that knocked my socks off. Pea shoots appeared in soba-noodle sushi, and wilted garlic and kale with short ribs.

Questions? Comments? Scared to try this out? Let us know.

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Melina Shannon-DiPietro is the director of the Yale Sustainable Food Project, which oversees sustainable dining at Yale, manages an organic farm on campus, and runs programs that support academic inquiry related to food and agriculture. More

Melina Shannon-DiPietro is an organic farmer turned executive director. In 2003 she traded in her stirrup hoe for a laptop and joined Yale to help found the Sustainable Food Project. For the past seven years, she has worked with colleagues, faculty, and students to create meaningful opportunities for college students in food, agriculture, and sustainability. Her biggest compliment came last year, when a student called her Yale's Dean of Food.
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