Alimentary, My Dear
Salad Days Greens (and More) to Go
By Tamia Nelson
December 20, 2005
No paddler has to go hungry nowadays. Nor do
you have to hover over a smoky fire for hours on end to prepare a meal in
the backcountry. A multi-course dinner? No problem. Anything from soup to nuts is
within the well-prepared camp cook's reach. Or maybe you prefer simpler
fare: bread and
say or a bowl of steaming
pasta. No? Then how about some savory roasted
meat? Whatever your choice, there's always dessert to
look forward to, followed by a fragrant cup of fresh-brewed tea or coffee.
Surely this is enough for anyone.
Or is it? There's more to being well-fed than protein, carbs, and
calories. Whether I'm eating at home or under way, I always crave a crunchy
salad. As much as I like pasta, bannock, and dried apricots, after a couple
of days without greens even the limp lettuce and tasteless tomatoes
grudgingly served up at the local Burger Palace are a lot more than a
welcome change. They're a hint of paradise lost.
Is this inevitable? Not necessarily. Ever since Euell Gibbons made
foraging fashionable back in the '60s, some paddlers have seized any
opportunity to gather wild food, and many have become quite expert at it.
But there are drawbacks. Foraging is illegal in many places, for one thing,
and even where no regulatory barrier exists, it goes against both the letter
and the spirit of "no-trace" camping. After all, canoeists and kayakers are
only guests in the backcountry, and good guests don't take food out of their
hosts' mouths. The creatures who make their home in the woods and waters
need everything that nature provides. There's nothing in their pantry to
spare for passing paddlers. And that's not all. Gathering food takes time,
and the penalty for errors in judgment can be high. Most folks already steer
clear of wild
mushrooms, fearing an upset stomach (or worse), but how many would-be
foragers can unfailingly distinguish between the tasty water-parsnip
(Sium sauve) and the deadly water-hemlock (Cicuta maculata)?
It's not an idle question. There's no ER
in the backcountry, and a single case of mistaken identity could kill
you. All in all, then, backcountry foraging leaves a lot to be desired.
Luckily, there's another solution: pack your greens in, along with the rest
of your food. It's easiest on weekend
adventures, of course, particularly if you have a small soft cooler and
a freezer block. That's what I'll concentrate on here.
OK. Let's take a closer look. Even lettuce will stay crisp if allowed to
keep its cool. (But don't let it freeze!) Obviously, all greens
should be as fresh as possible on the day you leave, and some are better
travelers than others. For example, spinach doesn't stand up to hard knocks
as well as romaine, iceberg lettuce, curly endive, and radicchio. Supply is
another problem. Gardeners have it made, at least in summer. They can
harvest their greens on the morning of their departure. But the rest of us
will have to do our pre-trip foraging at the HyperMart, unless we can count
on stopping at a farmer's market on our way to the put-in.
Once you've made your choice, what's next? Almost everyone understands
that fresh vegetables ought to be rinsed to remove stray grit and
some pesticide residues, among other things but when should
you do it? That simple question still divides good cooks. Some think greens
keep best if not rinsed till just before a meal. Others rinse everything
right after they take it out of the shopping bag. If you're in the first
school, be sure that you use clean
water in your camp kitchen. There's not much point in rinsing food in
dirty water, is there? Drying freshly washed greens isn't exactly
straightforward, either, even at home. In camp, your best bet is spin
drying. First, shake any excess water off the leaves. Then place them in the
center of a clean, dry bandanna.
(To avoid bruising delicate leaves, do small batches at a time.) Now gather
the four corners of the bandanna together in one hand and spin the resulting
pocket over your head. Hold tight, and be prepared for a drizzle of spray.
It's worth the wetting. My improvised spin-dryer works about as well as
anything else I've tried, at home or on the trail.
Is this too much trouble? Then save time in camp and eliminate the need
to purify rinse water by pre-washing your vegetables at home. But be sure to
dry them well before putting them in your pack. Pre-cut your salad makings
if you wish, too, though juicy veggies like tomatoes and cucumbers fare much
better if left whole. Rigid plastic boxes with airtight lids make the best
containers for salad greens, and lettuce benefits from being loosely wrapped
in a paper towel to help absorb excess moisture. Carrots, radishes, and
celery are made of sturdier stuff, however. Just pack them in tightly-closed
plastic bags. If time really presses, and you're willing to trade freshness
for convenience, you can even pre-mix entire salads, tossing in interesting
leaves like mizuna and frisée, along with some shredded radicchio for color
and flavor. Once in camp, add a pinch of salt, a dash of pepper, and a
splash of vinaigrette or squeeze of lemon to your DIY "salad kit" and serve
it up. Still too much trouble? Buy a ready-made, pre-washed, pre-packaged
kit at the HyperMart. (Don't add dressing or seasoning until it's time to
eat, however. Your greens will wilt if you do.)
There's more to a salad than lettuce, of course. Sliced cucumbers,
radishes, red onions or scallions, grape or cherry tomatoes.
are tasty additions, as is thinly sliced savoy, red, or green cabbage. Or
leave the lettuce out altogether. Broccoli and cauliflower can be broken
into bite-sized bits and boiled until slightly soft (but still firm inside),
then chilled and tossed with extra-virgin olive oil and the juice from a
freshly squeezed lemon. Salt and pepper to taste. The result? A green salad
with a difference. Green beans make a good simple salad, too. Cook them at
home till they break with a soft snap on bending. Then chill and store in a
rigid container in your soft cooler. In camp, toss the beans with thinly
sliced raw green or red onion and whole grape tomatoes, add salt and pepper,
and sprinkle with extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Want
something heartier? Slice in thin strips of mozzarella, or crumble feta or
ricotta salata cheese over the top. Slivered almonds are a welcome garnish,
And while you're experimenting, give fennel a try. Sometimes called
anise, fennel has a pleasant, mild licorice flavor. Better yet, it's
delicious both raw and cooked. At home, peel off the white outer layers of a
small- to medium-sized bulb and discard the fibrous stems. Only the tight
inner "ball" goes into your pack. Then, when you're ready to eat, cut
paper-thin wafers, working from the stem end of the ball to the root
you'll need a sharp
knife and mix with thin slices of red onion. Finish off with a
drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, adding salt and pepper to taste. (You can
also add walnut pieces or drained, canned mandarin oranges.) You won't find
a crunchier or more refreshing salad.
At this point, I suppose I should say something more about dressings.
Small amounts can be decanted into leakproof plastic bottles. A hint: Test
any new bottle by filling it with water and giving it several
vigorous squeezes. If it leaks even one drop, leave it behind. Avoid
any dressing based on mayonnaise, cream, or milk, as well. (There's one
exception. Read on.) Oil and vinegar are better backcountry companions,
especially when judiciously enhanced with salt and pepper, not to mention herbs and
spices. Experiment at home to see what you like best. As you've
probably guessed by now, my favorite dressings are compounded from olive oil
and commercial (i.e., cheap) balsamic vinegar or the juice of fresh citrus
lemons, limes, oranges, or grapefruit. But your tastes may differ. In
any case, extend your options by adding nuts and seeds, as well as croutons
or day-old "artisan" breads broken into large chunks. Drain a can of
garbanzos (aka chickpeas) or black beans and toss them with your greens.
And don't ignore marinated mushrooms, artichokes, bell or hot peppers, hard
cheeses like Parmesan, and fruit.
Want something really special? Then consider a Waldorf salad. (But don't ask Basil
Fawlty to prepare it.) Named for the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City,
whose maître d'hôtel Oscar Tschirky is credited with inventing it in 1896,
the Waldorf salad was once a staple of fashionable restaurant menus and
trendy dinner parties. It's no longer cutting-edge cuisine, but this
intriguing medley of fruit and veg makes mighty good paddling fare
nonetheless if you can find enough portion-controlled packets of
mayonnaise of a kind that needs no refrigeration, that is. (It
shouldn't be hard. Ask the deli manager at your HyperMart if you need help.)
Waterside Waldorf Salad
Serves 2 - 4, depending on appetites
2 Granny Smith apples, cored and chopped
1 small red onion, sliced thick
2 celery ribs, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/2 cup green seedless grapes
1/2 cup chopped walnut meats
2-4 portion-control packets of mayonnaise
Ground black pepper to taste
Pinch of salt
Chop apples into half-inch cubes. Then mix apples, onion and celery
slices, grapes, and walnut pieces in a small pot. Add mayonnaise from two
packets and stir until all the ingredients are coated. If the salad is too
dry, add more mayonnaise, one packet at a time, until the consistency is
right. Now season with black pepper and salt, stir again, and serve.
Variations Use raisins instead of fresh grapes. Substitute
plain yogurt instead of mayo, but only if you can keep the yogurt cold (or
make it fresh in camp). Macadamia nuts or hazelnuts are interesting
alternatives to walnut meats or additions, come to that. And if you
prefer a sweeter apple than the Granny Smith, go for it.
See what I mean? It's easier than you might think to bring a taste of the
Waldorf-Astoria to a waterfront camp somewhere back of beyond. And you don't
have to give up salads when you leave the put-in behind you. We've only
begun to explore the possibilities. What about water chestnuts, bok choy,
sprouts, and squash? Then there are black and green olives packed in oil.
Salsa-based dressings. Fresh herbs. And roasted garlic. The bottom line? If
you're willing to experiment, every day under way can be a salad day. What
could be more delicious?
Copyright © 2005 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights