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Turning Over a Few New Leaves: Salads by Season—Focus on the Southwest

We begin our gastronomic trek to turn over a few new leaves in the high deserts of the Southwest with a salad featuring watercress and other greens.

Welcome to the first installment of “Turning Over a Few New Leaves,” a four-part series of recipes inspired by traditional, seasonally forageable foods from the four major North American tribal regions—Southwest, Eastern Seaboard, Pacific Northwest Coast, and Northern Plains.

We begin our gastronomic trek in the high deserts of the American Southwest. From the bright-green watercress that blooms in the cool water of hillside springs, to the asparagus and dill growing along the edges of fast-flowing creeks and streams hidden deep within warm mountain canyons, there’s something tasty around every cactus-strewn corner of the springtime desert.

We introduce this series with a sampling of recipes that feature some of spring’s first foods, offered in a menu that is at once health conscious and delicious, and rooted in a history of culinary resourcefulness.

Ohun’ya! (“Let’s eat!” in Tewa)

High-Desert Spring Salad with Pan-Seared Rainbow Trout and Garlic-Dill Vinaigrette

Salad

2 cups watercress, leaves only (no stems, no roots)

1 cup dandelion leaves

1 cup asparagus tops, cut into 1-inch pieces

1/2 cup mint leaves

1/3 cup spring onion stalks, cut into ½-inch pieces

1/3 cup spring onion bulb, sliced into thin rings

1/3 cup sweet pea or sunflower shoots

1/3 cup wild grape leaves

10-12 baby potatoes, boiled and sliced lengthwise

Remove stems and roots from greens and tear into bite-size pieces. Remove first layer of skin from onion and cut off first inch of tops. Discard. Rinse all ingredients under a very gently running stream of water, or roll in moistened towels. Do not soak-rinse or greens will become waterlogged. Set the asparagus aside. Lay out the remaining greens evenly over cloth or paper towels and allow to air dry for about 10 minutes. Transfer greens to a dry towel, place another layer of towels over the greens and gently press to absorb any remaining moisture. It is important to remove as much moisture from greens as possible.

In a large blow, mix watercress, dandelion leaves, mint leaves, onion stalks, onion slices, pea shoots, and grape leaves. Cover bowl with a moist towel, taking care not to let it touch the greens, and place in the refrigerator.

In a medium pot, bring 1 quart of water and a pinch of salt to a rolling boil. Add asparagus and boil for 3-4 minutes, or until desired tenderness. Remove from water and place on paper (or cloth) towels to drain and cool. Refrigerate until ready to use. Bring water back to boil and add potatoes. Boil for 8-10 minutes, or until desired tenderness. Remove from water and set aside to cool.

Trout

1 medium size fresh, whole trout with head and tail intact—cleaned, filleted, scaled, rinsed, and patted dry

10 quail eggs

1/2 cup finely ground blue corn meal

2-3 tablespoons oil for frying

In a shallow bowl, beat the eggs to mix well. Place the cornmeal in a separate bowl. Roll the trout in the egg batter, and drag both sides gently through the cornmeal.

In a medium skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. (Test by dropping a few grains of the cornmeal into the oil. When they sizzle, it’s ready.) Cook trout 6-8 minutes on each side, or until cornmeal is browned and desired doneness is achieved, turning intermittently to prevent scorching. Remove from pan and set aside.

Substitution: 1-2 chicken eggs or 1 turkey or goose egg may be used in place of the quail eggs.

Dressing

2 tablespoons red wine or balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons raw honey or agave syrup

2 tablespoons pecan or walnut oil

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon fresh dill, finely chopped (leaves only, no stems)

1 whole garlic clove

Salt and pepper to taste

RoseMary Diaz

Prepared high desert spring salad is ready to serve.

Garnish (optional)

1 teaspoon wild garlic tops (flowers) or

1 teaspoon apple, pear, or plum blossoms

Mix vinegar, honey or agave syrup, oil, lemon juice, dill, and salt and pepper together in a salad dressing/shaker bottle. Peel the garlic clove and press with the flat side of a spoon to crush. Add to dressing mixture. Shake well. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

To serve, add asparagus to greens mixture. Add dressing and toss to coat evenly. Place salad on a large serving plate. Cut potatoes lengthwise and place around edge of greens. Place the trout diagonally over the greens, and sprinkle with garlic tops/fruit blossoms.

Tip: Do not oversaturate greens with dressing. Try using just half and serving the rest on the side—more can be added per individual tastes. Any remaining dressing can be refrigerated for up to one week.

Serves 4-6 as a starter, or 2 as an entrée.

Note: Most of the ingredients called for in these recipes are available at Whole Foods Markets, Sprouts, the organic section of many supermarkets, and many local farmers’ markets. All menus in the series can be reproduced for $50 or less.