PENINSULA KITCHEN: Time is ripe for home-made dressing

YOUR ASSIGNMENT THIS week is to go outside and look for culinary herbs and fresh salad greens.

They are everywhere.

Last Sunday, I parked my car at a small business in downtown Port Angeles, opened my door and came face to face with a large rosemary plant that seemed to want to grow right into my driver’s seat.

I got out of my car and instinctively buried my face in the foliage, breathing that fresh pungent scent.

Plants bursting forth

It’s been a long winter by Pacific Northwest standards, but right now, the local plant world is preparing to burst forth with new life.

And that means delicious flavors, heady aromas and nourishing salads.

The best time to harvest herbs from a flavor and nutritional point of view is just before they flower.

That is when all the plant’s energy is directed toward the growing leaves and stem.

Once the plant flowers, the leaves are still quite fine for cooking but will have lost some of their intensity.

If you (or your neighbors) haven’t yet started your herb garden, it’s time to hoof it over to your favorite garden store and buy a 4-inch pot of something to get you started.

Be sure and read the tag carefully for information on what growing conditions your chosen plant will like.

And make sure the variety you choose is grown for its culinary value, not just its interesting leaf color.

Most useful herbs

The most useful culinary herbs, in my opinion, are rosemary, thyme, oregano, chives, marjoram, mint and parsley … these are the flavors and scents I have in various spots around my garden, and they are all delicious.

All it takes is a sunny spot near your kitchen or just a pot on your windowsill.

There are countless ways to incorporate these herbs into your kitchen repertoire, including roasted vegetables, sauces and soups.

Perhaps the most basic component of many American meals is the tossed green salad, with an ­herbed vinaigrette.

Easy, cheap

Making your own salad dressings might seem like an unnecessary hassle, but it’s easy, cheap and will save you from consuming a variety of processed sugars, oils and preservatives.

Culinary herbs are a gift from nature, bursting with vitality and flavor.

Now is a great time to perfect your own personal dressing.

Standard recipe

Here is my standard dressing for you to try, but everybody has a personal preference for flavor, and you should feel free to tweak this to your liking.

Spring Green Salad with Betsy Wharton’s Go-To Vinaigrette

In a pint mason jar mix:

1/3 cup apple cider vinegar (memorize this: two parts oil: one part vinegar)

2/3 cup olive oil

Salt

Ground pepper

Mustard powder

Crush garlic

Thyme, finely chopped

Parsley

Mint

In a pint mason jar, mix apple cider vinegar and olive oil.

Add pinch of each salt, ground pepper, mustard powder, crushed garlic, finely chopped thyme, parsley and mint.

An option for you if you like a sweeter dressing but want to avoid sugar is to add 1 to 2 teaspoons of fresh or chopped dried fruit. Anything from a frozen strawberry to some chopped raisins will work.

Another option if you like a creamy dressing is to add a tablespoon or two of sour cream, plain yogurt, buttermilk or mayonnaise.

Place the lid on the jar and shake vigorously to mix. This quantity should be enough to last for several meals.

For the salad, include various varieties of lettuce, spinach and other greens.

From the backyard right now, add some dandelion leaves and even a bit of sorrel if you know what it looks like.

Wash your greens gently, and spin or air dry. Tear into bite-sized pieces, then toss the greens with a splash of dressing and enjoy.

Store the rest of your vinaigrette for another day and another salad.

________

Betsy Wharton is a Port Angeles Farmers Market vendor, Washington State University Extension food preservation information assistant and a registered nurse at First Step Family Support Center. More about her pickling enterprise can be found at www.Clallam CanningCompany.com.

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