I live in an area that is perfect for growing just about anything all year long if one can forget the pesky dilemma of drought we’ve endured for the past many years. I’ve been a reasonably capable gardener most of my life — thanks to my mother who most likely could grow a stick in the Sahara — so I’ve always had plants that needed tending. Whether they were house plants, everyday geraniums, or wildflowers I grew from seed scattered over moist soil, I’ve enjoyed the peace that has come from caring for them.
Fast forward about 10 years.
I no longer have any property to speak of to plant things in; instead, I have what I’ll call an extended patio that wraps around one and a half sides of our house. It all seemed so wonderful when we bought it, not to have to worry about fixing a leaky roof or painting it, and for the most part, I still agree. But there are days when I long for a yard — or at least a yard that is more than eight feet wide. On other days, I’m thankful that I don’t have to take care of that dream yard. I used to have one and know that as much as it provides a sense of accomplishment and overall beauty to a home, it can be overwhelming to care for.
Last spring, I finally decided to purchase an herb box. Of course, I’ll be the first to admit that an herb box (dimensions roughly 8″ x 36″) isn’t quite the replacement for a dream yard, but I can deal with the delusion when the Pacific is a short 10 minutes from my door. My rosemary bushes grow like weeds in my planters, so they were the least of my concerns. It was more the need to have parsley, or oregano, and maybe marjoram, or salad greens. Now that would be a luxury! A year has gone by, and I’ve been so busy I haven’t spent much time on my patio. The herb box hasn’t gotten much attention. Thyme has disappeared in more ways than one, and the purple basil never really flourished to begin with. What I’m surprised to find is red sorrel bursting with life and all but wearing an advertisement for snails and worms to have lunch. It never really died down over winter, and now, after our recent rainy weather, it’s flourishing along with the parsley and marjoram. Granted, the level of soil in the box is about 50% of what it once was, but still. Surprisingly, the arugula is sending out tender shoots as well. Go figure.
I decided that it was the perfect reason to make a spring salad, even though the vernal equinox is still a week away. Anything surviving the neglect my herb box has had to withstand deserves to be celebrated. And I suppose it’s proof that one only needs a strip of space with bright light most of the day to lull her into the notion of being an urban gardener warrior.
Red Sorrel and Arugula Salad with Avocado and Orange
a palm full of red sorrel
half a palm full of tender new arugula sprouts
a few hearty sprigs of flat-leafed parsley
sprinkle of feta
the juice of half a Meyer lemon
a few teaspoons or so of excellent, fruity, extra virgin olive oil (from California)
a dash or two of superior Sherry vinegar (from Espana)
- Rinse the greens, because the small snail you found hiding under one of the sorrel leaves has left its mark in more than one place. Resist trimming the edges the other garden critters have chewed, because it’s organic, right?
- Slice the avocado and peel the orange, removing as much as the pith as you can. If you’re like me, eat the pith because it reminds you of times spent in childhood gnawing the inside of orange peels on hot summer days.
- To make the dressing, squeeze the lemon and with a fork, whisk in the olive oil. Splash in the vinegar and mix well. Season and taste. Adjust.
- Pour a bit of dressing on the greens and toss well. Plate and add the avocado and orange. Drizzle on more dressing to your liking and sprinkle on the feta.
- I don’t want to give anyone the idea that salad is something that has a season. We eat salad all year long. We have to or our bodies will rebel — and they should. Please do not talk to me about cavemen.
- Can I just say that it semi pains me to clip anything from my herb box? In much the same way that I rarely clip flowers to take inside and put in a vase, I had a nanosecond of angst clipping the sorrel. But then I was over it.
- Red-veined sorrel, or rumex sanguineus is also known as Bloody Dock, Red-veined Dock, or Bloody Sorrel. Makes you want to have a salad, doesn’t it?
- And guess what? It’s a perennial! No wonder it survived the winter. More importantly, it loves damp soil. Good thing it’s in an herb box instead of our less than lovely So Cal soil which is a scary mixture of decomposed granite, limestone, and clay.
- On another note, my particular plant doesn’t sport the flower mentioned in some sources, nor does it cause stomach upset.
- The taste isn’t what I’d call bitter, but it does have a tartness to it — much less so than escarole, or endive.
- The sweetness of the orange is a very nice balance, but if you’re not someone who relishes biting into strong greens, then add a bit of honey to the dressing and a smidge of dijon. It’s good for you!
- If you’re not the “tart” green person that I am, check out this source. Mmmm….
- P.S. Monosaturated fat in the avocado (and evoo) and vitamin C in the orange. Dark green leafy veg….healthy, healthy, healthy.
- I did find this recipe using red-veined sorrel in soup — with bacon. Now to try and gather 2 lbs. of it. Maybe I need another herb box.