Sunday, October 21, 2007


Mesclun and Lamb Salad

Designer leaves - those pre-washed and packaged salad greens - do come in handy. But if you're a committed Green, and occasionally my inner-Clean, Green Kiwi kicks in, those plastic bags are a waste and an unnecessary pollutant, especially since they only contain greens you can obtain yourself. And if you haven't got time to wash salad leaves yourself, then what have you got time for?

Of all the designer leaves, my favourite mix is Mesclun (called Spring Mix in the US), which contains leafy baby greens. There is an amazing range of textures and flavours contained therein, and you can probably find most of them at your local farmers' market.

To create your own Mesclun mix, ensure that the greens are young; this way all the leaves are very tender. In addition to different tastes, each subspecies should have a different character in order to provide textural and visual interest. It is best to get a combination of the bitter with the sour and the buttery to make for a more complex salad.

The following are common in Mesclun mixes:

* Radicchio - Sometimes known as Italian Chicory or Treviso, it has a thick red leaf that is bitter and spicy.
* Rocket - Also known as Arugula, this is a favourite for its pepperiness.
* Mizuna - a mustard green that tastes like dandelion, this leaf has gorgeous jagged edges and is slightly less bitter than radicchio.
* Frisée - From this endive family, this frizzy leaf is the palest of greens and is creamy yet bitter in taste and is slightly crunchy in texture.
* Mâche - Also known as Lamb's Lettuce, this has a long green leaf with a sweet taste (the older the leaf the more intense the bitterness).
* Sorrel - A long wavy leaf with a sour taste.
* Silverbeet - Also known as Swiss Chard, this is a leathery, dark green leaf that has a mild bitter taste.
* Spinach - In its baby form, it is tender but with a slight bite.
* Red Beet - The heart-shaped leaves of the beetroot (or beet) taste like spinach and add a gorgeous deep-red to your salad palate.
* Pea Tendrils - From the snow pea plant, the graceful tendrils add crispness and taste like peas, as you would expect.
* Bibb - Or Boston Lettuce, this baby leaf is spade-shaped and has a buttery texture.

Of course, I cannot leave well alone and just have a salad of leaves, though I do not hold it against those that choose to do so. I love meat in my salads, whether it be duck, beef or lamb. Today I chose lamb chops from the middle loin. The meat is not fatty, which makes it a perfect meat for quick grilling. But I chose a chop because I had something specific in mind for the outer layer of fat.

This salad can serve two or four, depending on the course.

Mesclun and Lamb Salad

For the marinade:
1 tablespoon sumac
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

4 middle loin lamb chops, approximately 1/3kg or 3/4lb total weight

For the salad dressing:
1/2 tablespoon vermouth (or white wine vinegar)
1/2 tablespoon clover honey (or any sweet, runny honey)
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
3/4 tablespoon sumac
1 1/2 - 2 tablespoons olive oil

60g/2oz Mesclun salad mix, your own or store bought

3/4 tablespoon olive oil, plus 1 teaspoon if required
4 slices of ciabatta bread
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped

1) Mix the marinade ingredients together in a shallow bowl.
2) Put the lamb chops into the same bowl. Turn over and rub in the marinade to ensure complete coverage. Leave at room temperature, covered, for at least 30 minutes. If for more than an hour or if it is an especially hot day, leave covered in the refrigerator. Bring meat to room temperature before grilling, though.
3) In a large bowl, mix the salad dressing ingredients together except for the olive oil. Trickle olive oil in last, stirring with a fork or small whisk to emulsify. Taste for additional seasoning or whether you want it more astringent (more vermouth) or sweeter (more honey). If you do not have sumac, substitute with the juice of half a lemon and use less vermouth.
4) Put your Mesclun leaves on top of the dressing, but don't toss them in the dressing until you are ready to serve the salad.
5) Put a heavy-bottomed frying pan/skillet on over high heat. Add 3/4 tablespoon of olive oil.
6) Give the chops a quick shake over the bowl in which they have been marinading to release excess liquid. Put into the frying pan when the oil begins to smoke.
7) Depending on how you prefer your lamb chops done, allow 3-7 minutes per side. Before removing from the pan, roll the in the pan to get it slightly crispy and to render some of the fat. Remove from the pan and allow to rest. Do not freak out if they look burned; it should only be darker than expected on account of the sumac.
8) Turn the heat down to medium-high. Check liquid to see if more is required; if so, add 1 teaspoon of olive oil. Put the slices of ciabatta in the pan to soak up the lamb fat and olive oil. You want a light toasting, so only 1-2 minutes per side should suffice.
9) Toss the salad.
10) To assemble the salad: Place the slices of ciabatta on the plate, add a light layer of mesclun leaves, followed by the lamb chops. Top with a bulkier layer of mesclun leaves and scatter with parsley.

I love the smoky, citrus elements of sumac, which marries so well with lamb, with its gamy intensity. As for the ciabatta, not only does it add a toasty crunch to every bite, but combined with the lamb fat it has absorbed will make your eyes roll with pleasure.

The salad world has come a long way from those consisting solely of the ubiquitous iceberg lettuce. Give Mesclun a shot. It will make any side salad infintely interesting, or it can be incorporated into a more substantial salad, like this one, adding an element of sophistication.

This post is being submitted to the inimitable Susan of The Well-Seasoned Cook, who is hosting the 105th edition of Kalyn's Kitchen Weekend Herb Blogging, a food blog event that has just gone into its third year.

Post script Please take the time to visit the round-up of this event, as poetically compiled by Susan at The Well-Seasoned Cook.
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Hey, Shaun! Thanks for the kudos, and your grand entry for WHB! I like meslun b/c it is so darned hard to find that occasional, isolated delectable green outside the mix. It was only recently that I'd stumbled upon mâche; and frisée, I fear, is even more elusive.
Stunning salad! Just love the colours. :)
It's funny, I just bought some Sumac, and then wondered what I intended to do with it.
Shaun, thanks for the education and info on the green mix.
Oh, yum! Love lamb. And the colours in that photo!Feels like spring in the air ;)
This post reminds me so much of my stay up north this past summer. I would hit the farmers market every Saturday morning and the first stop was at the "lettuce man". He had about 8 really large coolers lined up by the side of his truck and in each cooler had about 3 different types of lettuces that he grew. Salad Heaven !
I am into the addition of lamb in your salad! Great idea!
Yum, yum, yum, yum. I love meat salads. Somehow, the sharp bite of slightly bitter greens makes the meat taste even richer. This is a great recipe--thanks for sharing it with us.
Great description of all the various salad greens. And I love the idea of seasoning the meat with Sumac. I can tell I'd love this salad!
Susan, lovie - Indeed, some of the leaves contained in the mesclun mix are hard to find, but some farmers' markets have better lettuce/salad providers than others. If there is more than one market in your area or close by, I think it is worth the effort. But then, paying $3-ish at the local market isn't the worst crime to commit, either.

Your write-up of all the entries is inspiring and fantastic. I'm sure Kalyn is proud to have had you as a host of her popular event.

Wendy - The colours are a dream. That is something to consider when compiling your own Mesclun mix. The reds can be found in either radicchio or beet leaves.

Catboy - I can think of so many things to do with sumac. E-mail me, and I will share some ideas with you and see what takes your fancy.

Cynthia - I thought I had best explain what makes this salad mix so unique. They aren't just random leaves, but rather a combination of very young leaves. I love that each leaf has something different to add. It's like having a house packed with relatives!

Vonsachsen - Well, coming from Bulgaria, I'm sure you know well the value lamb. I often prefer lamb this way and sometimes do without chops and slice up the lamb to make it a proper salad (i.e. no knife required).

Winedeb - I love the lettuce guys! I'm glad you appreciated their expertise and love for the young greens while you were up north. I do not often have salads without some protein in them. This one would go well with a glass of wine, don't you think? What would you pair it with?

Christina - I also enjoy the contrast between the meat and the leaves. I did, however, bridge the gap by using sumac in both the marinade and the dressing. This is an easy lunch to prepare and ever so flavourful. The only fore-thought required is to make a marinade, but if one were short on time, salt and pepper would do the job, as always.

Kalyn - Thank you for stopping by! I thought it best to attempt to describe the different greens because I'm aware that part of the reason for your blog event is to educate its readers on the wonders of herbs and vegetables. Sumac is my most favourite spice, and coming from a country where there is more sheep than there are people, how can I not support a little population-control? I hope you will try this some time.
Stunning salad dressing Shaun - it has never crossed my mind to use Vermouth. So, did you make your own melange of leaves?
Shaun, I think I would pair it with a lighter red, maybe a nice Merlot. I think a Zinfandel or Cabernet would be too heavy for the salad portion, which is one of the best parts!
Lucy - I tend to use vermouth if I don't have white wine vinegar on hand (or can't find it in the cupboard) or am not using lemon juice. My own mix this time, but I'm not above buying it from the supermarket already prepared. Needs must and all...

Deb - Yes, this is a nice selection. I love Crab Farm's merlot, but it is quite heady so would have to give thought to a lighter one from another winery. They do have a malbec/merlot that is exquisite, though, so I could try that with this salad next time. I miss not getting my hands on zinfandel. They grow all over California. Eric and I adore them. I will just make the most of it when I return stateside. Thanks for the suggestion.
Hi Shaun, your lamb salad looks delicious. And thanks for all the info about the salad.

I must say that I have a fondness for lamb, esp lamb cutlets. Growing up in Singapore, I only knew about "mutton" and mom had to cook it in a pressure cooker to tenderise it. And then I came to Australia and discovered lamb. Now, I can't get enough of it.

p/s: Thanks for the comment that you left on my blog. Hope your thesis is going well.
Shaun, that looks delish! Your mention of iceberg lettuce reminds me of growing up in 1970's NZ, where every iceberg lettuce salad was accompanied by a condensed milk mayonnaise! Now, where are my old stubbies...
I have to agree with you on this issue of Delicious. I've read and re-read it and still find it pretty good. Don't you just hate it when you get a copy of your favourite mag and it lets you down? This issue's the bomb though! =) And the Salad looks good. thanks for the brief lesson on mesclun salad mixes. I always get confused with the mixes available.
Your dressing sounds great, and the info about the leaves is good too =) I remember the green pea tendrils from NZ, we don't get them here, and the are so good!

I love mesclun mix, and your combining it w/ the lamb sounds great!

I totally agree w/ you about the pre-washed and bagged salad mixes - I prefer picking and washing my own greens!!
Nora B. - Mutton is great, too, especially since it has more flavour by virtue of its age, making it a perfect stew ingredient. But lamb is receptive to more flavours, which is why I use it in this salad. Also, in NZ and Australia, it's actually easier to pick up lamb than it is mutton.

As for the thesis, it is coming along very well. You know, some days are up and others down - writing is such an intense, internal process that you're bound to waver and not feel "quite there" sometimes. Give yourself a break.

Nigel - As a kid, I remember there being heads of iceberg in the fridge and how I bored I was looking at them. I'm so glad for the variety of salad greens available to us now.

As for the stubbies, mate, please don't look for them. Best leave them in the trenches of the mind.

Victoria - Yeah, I find that at least one issue per year is uninspiring. It's as if everybody dropped their balls at the same time and forgot who was playing. Or maybe we just get used to the formulae? I love the new Delicious, too.

Kelly-Jane - So sorry you don't get pea tendrils in your mesclun mix up there. I love their crunch, but some leaves can be used as an alternative, such as romaine lettuce.

Bruno - This is an incredibly flavorful salad. Every ingredient adds something, but it is not complicated at all. I think the best thing to remember is that each level of the salad is tended to: the salad is dressed, the lamb is marinated and the bread is toasted.
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