It seems like bad timing that just as salad season reaches its peak, the heat makes lettuce bolt.
One way of getting round that is to grow the loose leaf or multi-leaf lettuce varieties, from which individual leaves can be harvested. They are less likely to bolt if planted in a cooler part of the garden, ideally in bed that receives morning sun but afternoon shade. Covering a bed with 40 percent shade cloth is another alternative.
In addition to the well known varieties like Lollo Rosso, Lollo Biondo and Red Oak Leaf, there is Multileaf which has four distinct leaf types; a curly green leaf, dark green leaf, red curly leaf with green internal colour and cherry red leaves. It’s available as a mature plant and can be transplanted into the garden or grown in pots.
Apparently the lettuce was developed to produce the right size of leaf to fit onto a hamburger. For those who don’t eat fast food, it means that the leaf is small enough to be used whole and combined with baby spinach leaves as well as all sorts of other salad leaves that are growing in the garden right now.
There is a surprisingly large selection of herb leaves that can be used in a salad or in the dressing.
The most popular herbs for salad are sweet basil, mint, rocket, dill or fennel and chives or garlic chives. Parsley, chervil and salad burnet are all rich in vitamin C and can also be added in limited qualities.
Lesser known herbs that also add colour and flavour to salads include salad burnet, par-cel (looks like parsley and taste like celery), finely grated fresh horseradish root, Vietnamese coriander which is otherwise known as hot mint, lemon balm, bloody sorrel, and the mushroom plant.
There is a particular satisfaction that comes from picking ones own salad leaves. Some gardeners describe it as an aesthetic experience and it certainly can be if you consciously mix and balance different flavours and textures while bearing in mind the final taste that you want.
That said, there are no rules when it comes to combining herb leaves in a salad. By learning the taste of each herb leaf it becomes easier to put complementary tastes together rather than having clashing or over powering flavours.
Strongly flavoured herbs, especially mint, should be used sparingly as they can overpower other delicate flavours.
Herbs with tough or strongly flavoured leaves, like thyme, sage, marjoram and rosemary, are not really suitable for salads but are delicious when used in salad dressings such as herbal vinaigrettes. Allow the flavour of the herbs to develop by letting the dressing stand for at least 15 minutes before use.
Don’t forget about the herb flowers. They are all edible and have the same taste, but are little bit more perfumed, than the leaf. Particularly nice perennial flowers are those from chives, thyme, marjoram, sage and rosemary. Nasturtiums are peppery but add colour.
Always wash herbs before using them, even if they are grown organically. Just pick what you need because stored herbs quickly lose their goodness and freshness. Many soft leaf herbs bruise easily so wash and dry them carefully.
Herbs like chives, mint, parcel, parsley, Vietnamese coriander, and lemon balm, can be cut or chopped. The leaves of rocket, sweet basil, the mushroom plant, and nasturtium should be used whole or torn rather than chopped because they bruise. Use thin strands of dill or fennel leaves. Peel and finely grate horseradish root.