Mesclun is actually not one vegetable, but a mixture of fresh leafy salad greens, grown to be harvested young. They are valued for their variety of flavours, colours, and nutritional diversity. The name mesclun comes from 'mescal' meaning 'to mix thoroughly' or 'mixture'; pretty straightforward. The blend changes with the season and growers personal preference, comprising some assortment of baby lettuce leaves, young silverbeet, arugula, chervil, endive, various herbs, dandelion greens, mizuna, immature mustard greens, tiny pak choi, baby spinach, et cetera. Originating in the Provence region of France, mesclun mixes are now found at most farmers markets, restaurants, and supermarkets.
I often toss handfuls of mesclun into large, I-threw-the-whole-refrigerator
-in type salads, to mix with head lettuce, roasted and raw vegetables, grains, sprouts, nuts and seeds. And yes, they're awesome, hearty salads, with nay a comment of 'rabbit food' to be heard. But where mesclun really shines is in it's sexy, inherently simple glory, wearing nothing more than a perfect vinaigrette, offering bright fresh flavour to a plate. Serve alongside your pie/pizza/roast/pasta/BBQ/soup for a light, springy palate cleanser and dose of extra bright fresh greens during these darker winter months.
1 bag of Mesclun Mix
For the Vinaigrette: A Base Recipe
1 tablespoon Dijon Mustard
2 cloves Garlic, finely minced
3 tablespoons Vinegar- Balsamic, Red Wine, White Wine, Champagne, or Raw Apple Cider- whichever you have on hand or prefer
1 tablespoon Honey or Maple Syrup (you can omit if you prefer a tart dressing)
1/2 teaspoon Fine Sea Salt
Black Pepper, freshly ground
1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil- choose a good quality cold pressed olive oil; there are a variety of excellent EVOO's from the Canterbury region to support!
The How To:
Rinse mesclun well in a bowl of water to dislodge any grit and soil. Gently dry, using a salad spinner or tea towel; you want dry leaves, as the vinaigrette won't stick to damp greens and instead will repel like water off a duck's back, leaving you with a pool of water and oil in the bottom of your bowl. (Science is cool.)
To prepare the vinaigrette:
In a small bowl or glass jar, whisk together the mustard, garlic, vinegar of choice, honey or maple, sea salt, and pepper. Then, as you continue to whisk briskly, slowly stream in the olive oil until it is emulsified and all the oil has been incorporated. (Science is Cool, fact # 2: Oil and water do not mix, a fact you're likely aware of. Vinegar is a ‘water’ in this case. If you've ever made a salad dressing consisting of just oil and vinegar, no amount of shaking that sucker around will force them to combine; they naturally separate. You need an emulsifying agent to trap and hold the oil droplets in your water base. Garlic, mustard, egg yolk, honey, tahini, mashed avocado are all great emulsifiers, providing you with a perfectly smooth, blended vinaigrette with plenty of flavour, too.)
Pour a bit of the vinaigrette into a salad bowl, then gently mix the greens through, lightly coating. If you prefer a heavier dose of dressing, pour a touch more atop. Serve immediately. Eat yo' greens!
Play with different good quality vinegars to see which you enjoy, as each has a distinct taste profile and will highlight different salad ingredients. You can add herbs or spices to play with the flavour as well. The above base vinaigrette can be doubled or tripled, and kept in an airtight jar in the refrigerator for up to a week. Remove and shake before serving.
And yeah, if you simply can't have a salad without extras, go nuts; add those carrots, beets, roasted vegetable or toasted nuts and seeds, grains, proteins, et cetera. You do you. But keep the vinaigrette, it's delicious.
Created by Elena Keir of Naked Cakes and Wholefoods