Every year, without fail, March inspires me to garden. It caught me off guard a few weeks ago, that desire. Because this year, my summer feels so up in the air. I am ready to move, out of the city, but where to, exactly, remains a little uncertain. So I made a deal with myself: no gardening this year. No more acquisition of pots, or plants, or things. It’s time to pare down, to minimize.
But there is nothing that satisfies me more than gardening in the spring. It has something to do with the long evenings, the fact that I can sneak onto my deck at 6:30 and get my fingers dirty, watch the brightness of the evening sky linger a little longer than a couple months back, and just be right there. I haven’t been so good at being right there lately, and gardening effortlessly reminds me how to do that.
And it is so visceral: there is the good, clean smell of the dirt, the coolness of it and the evening air, the tang and grassy notes of a stolen lettuce leaf that I chomp, the deeply soothing powers of green things. (Science has recently confirmed what anyone who gardens or hikes has intuitively known: green is the most healing.)
Gardening, too, is a way to mark the time. I remember my first spring on this deck, when I hauled bag after bag of heavy potting soil up four flights of stairs, but refused help from anyone because I loved the delicious physical exhaustion that came with the work, when I spent hundreds of dollars on plants and soil amendments and pots because I was so excited to have a little sanctuary of green with such a remarkable view in my city, when I sat on the deck after hours of bending over and pulling weeds, reading a biography of Alice Waters and admiring her wild life in the 70s, watching the fog roll in and drinking red wine. I loved the weird friction of the warm sun and cold fog overtaking the sky: San Francisco’s surest harbinger of summer. I grew flowers and herbs and salad greens and brassicas, I experimented. I am still not an expert gardener but I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t, at least in this little square plot with its little microclimate.
It is my favorite ritual this time of year, and it’s all the more sharp and acute because I’m pretty certain it’s my last year to perform this ritual here. Why preemptively give up the joy and the delight and the struggle and the smell and when I’m not done with this little deck, four stories up, in a rapidly changing city? So I’ll garden here one more spring, because it anchors me, and calms me, and because there is nothing so delightful as a bowl full of fresh lettuce leaves that you have grown yourself.
Lentil Salad with Spring Greens, Asparagus, and a Soft Egg
Yield: 2 servings
Lentils adapted from Bon Appetit
When I cook for this space, I often make an effort to create something dynamic and unique. Lately, I have been so busy that I fall back on the familiar, and the familiar feels good. Usually for a weeknight salad, I don’t even make a dressing, I just throw some oil and vinegar on everything and toss. Aside from the charred lemon, this is a pretty straightforward bowl of food. That, and it might help to prepare the lentils ahead of time. Then it all comes together marvelously. I find that spring foods can feel and taste kind of cooling, which is why I sautéed the radishes in butter; it warms them and softens their bite, and they are a new thing entirely. It’s my favorite thing to do with radishes. Use up your old veggies in the water that the lentils cook in; those tired carrots and wilted celery are redeemed this way.
For the lentils:
1 cup green or puy lentils, rinsed
Optional aromatics: 1 carrot, roughly chopped; 1 celery stalk, roughly chopped; thyme or parsley leaves; 1 bay leaf; 1 dried chili or chile flakes
For the salad:
2 or 4 eggs (depending on how many you’d like on your salad)
2 Tablespoons butter, ghee, or coconut oil
1/2 pound asparagus, sliced on the diagonal
1 bunch Easter egg radishes, rinsed and halved lengthwise
1 lemon, halved
8 cups mixed spring greens
Small handful of fresh parsley, chopped
Small handful of fresh chives, chopped
Extra virgin olive oil
Flaky sea salt
Freshly cracked black pepper
In a large pot, add the lentils and aromatics, and cover by about two inches with water. Bring to a boil, covered, and reduce heat to low, simmering until lentils are soft and cooked through, about 45-60 minutes. Set aside to cool in their liquid.
For the eggs, bring a small pot of water to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, add the eggs and set a timer for 7 minutes. (A little longer for a firmer yolk.) Remove the eggs and plunge into an ice bath to cool. Peel and set aside.
In the meanwhile, heat a large grill pan or sauté pan over medium heat. Add the butter, and let it melt and get frothy. Add the asparagus, radish, and lemon halves and sauté without disturbing to brown them a little. Toss and stir as needed to evenly cook.
To make the salad, combine 2 cups of cooked, drained lentils with the salad greens and fresh herbs. Add a generous glug of olive oil and vinegar and toss. Top each salad with half of the radishes and asparagus, and one half of each lemon. Finish with a generous sprinkle of flaky sea salt, freshly cracked pepper, and a squeeze of the lemon.