Cucumber Salad with Corn, Feta and Herbs

At the height of summer, on long days of working and playing outside, nothing is better than a refreshing garden-fresh salad. The lemon cucumbers that have been ripening back-to-back on our vines are deserving of better than a humble supporting role. We’ve enjoyed plenty sliced with a pinch of salt.

As a basis of a more substantial dish, perfect for al fresco lunch, I mix the beautiful slices with corn, fresh herbs, feta, and succulent wild greens. Dressed only lightly with extra virgin olive oil, the flavors balance and compliment one another wonderfully– salt from the feta, sweetness from the corn, and light citrus from the purslane.

I’ve used mint and basil together since enjoying the best-ever caprese salad in a restaurant, and now my tomatoes are paired more often with mint than the latter. We also use the abundant herb in myriad savory dishes that I would have once thought strange, since mint always meant “sweet” to me– an association I suspect an unfortunately large population of Americans share. I only urge you to branch out! Zucchini and mint are a match made in heaven. And there’s always mint wine.

Here I use grapefruit mint, my favorite variety. It has the power and aroma to turn a cold glass of water into a refreshing summer mocktail with a simple muddled leaf.

As for the purslane and oxeye daisies: both are exceptionally common, easily identified wild plants, though of course I encourage research before foraging for food. Both are used medicinally and are delicious greens.

While the beautiful seas of daisies have dried on Northwest hillsides, lush basal leaves continue to sprout everywhere. (Check your garden!) Their flavor is pleasantly herbal and mild. Baby arugula would make a stronger-flavored domesticated stand-in, and wild amaranth leaves would be nice as well.

Purslane especially likes inhospitable cracks in the sidewalk and gravel driveways, so just look down. It’s an unassuming succulent with a cucumber-citrus flavor. More on this lovely wild snack from Grow a Good LifeAttainable Sustainable, and Little Big Harvest. Sliced lemon verbena or lemon mint might stand in adequately, though without the cool crispness than purslane offers.

Cucumber Salad with Corn, Feta and Herbs

Quantities are notably omitted. Use a handful of each ingredient as you prefer.

Cucumbers, preferably lemon variety, sliced 1/4-inch thick

Steamed corn, cut from the cob

Feta cheese, crumbled

Purslane, tips and leaves

Oxeye daisy, basal leaves

Basil leaves, thinly sliced

Mint leaves, such varieties as grapefruit, apple, or spearmint, thinly sliced

Extra virgin olive oil (very little)

Salt (very little)

Black pepper (very little)

For garnish: basil or mint sprigs, oxeye daisy flowers, borage flowers, or nasturtium.

Toss all ingredients together, then arrange in shallow salad bowls and add garnishes, all of which above are edible and delicious.


Superpowers of Stinging Nettles

Many of us have long known nettles for their bee-like sting to the ankle as we sweep by the leaves along a trail or wade into them in the corner of the yard. I was introduced to nettles when I fell into a patch while on a hike as a kid. Via tiny hollow hairs, the plant delivers a mighty sting that swells, burns and itches for hours.

Therefore my appetite was far from the first sense raised when I ever encountered one. That has decidedly changed. Now that a little winter rain has ushered in a bounty of lush wild plants, we look most enthusiastically to the ever-expanding crowd of nettles in our field.

Stinging nettles are quite easily identified, making them a great choice for novice foragers. They grow up to two or three feet tall and have paired heart-shaped, dark-green leaves with distinctly toothed edges and tiny hairs. The flowers hang down in tiny light-green clusters.

We drink nettle tea very regularly, so we run our dehydrator near-constantly when they’re in season. The drying deactivates the sting, and the tea tastes similar to green tea with a hint of honey-like sweetness. The tea turns the most robust Disney green as it steeps, and it darkens intriguingly if left to sit for long.

The nutritional and medicinal values of nettles are myriad and incredible. Historically, nettles have been used to treat urinary and prostate problems, joint and muscle pain, arthritis, anemia, hair loss, and allergies, among numerous other ailments. It’s used as a diuretic and anti-inflammatory. Nettles are loaded with iron and a multitude of vitamins and are especially valuable for pregnant and nursing women.

Nettles are very versatile as a cooked green as well. They’re excellent in pasta, prepared in the noodle dough or stuffed into ravioli with fresh ricotta. They can also be used in lieu of wilted spinach in nearly anything. I find the flavor to be better and more nuanced than spinach.

To handle and cook with nettles, they can be dipped in simmering water to deactivate the sting, then chopped, or they can simply be simmered in a pot briefly, then moved to an ice bath. A delicate plant, they do not need much cooking. And while the stems appear tough when fresh, they quickly become very tender as the leaves wilt. The plants can be wilted whole and pureed in a creamed soup topped with crumbled bacon, as we did on Sunday.