Claytonia is not a small nation tucked away in the Alps, nor is it the latest addition to the periodic table of elements. Claytonia perfoliata, it’s full name, is a cold hardy salad green that grows wild up and down the west coast of the United States. The plant grows up from thin, succulent stems. The leaves are delicate and small, shaped almost like a spade. Eventually tiny white flowers will grow out from the center of the leaf. The entire plant is edible from stem to flower with a texture reminiscent of spinach with a very mild flavor that is slightly sweet when first picked.
During the California gold rush, miners learned about claytonia from local Indians. It became an important part of their diet because it was plentiful and it’s vitamin C content helped to ward off scurvy, hence it’s other name, miner’s lettuce. It was because of it’s nutritional value, British settlers brought claytonia from America to Europe, and later to settlements in Australia and Cuba.
Joe first learned about claytonia from his readings in the books of his gardening hero, Eliot Coleman. Joe planted claytonia in the greenhouse and under a cold frame late last fall. This time the plantings were successful but when the cold weather came on with a vengeance, the plants stopped growing. Since the plants can survive the freeze/thaw cycle, they were the first to start growing in the spring. Claytonia is supposedly an easy self-seeder but if not, Joe will plant it earlier in the fall to give it a better head start for winter salads.
I like to use it alone in a salad or with other similar greens with a delicate texture. In this salad I paired the claytonia with other spring vegetables, carrots, beets and radishes. Since it bruises easily, I prefer to toss the greens first with the vinaigrette, then layer the other ingredients on top. The sweet tartness of apricot vinaigrette pairs nicely with the greens.
Serves two, the salad components are all approximations
- Enough claytonia to fill the bowl of your choice
- Shredded carrots
- Finely julienned raw beets
- Thinly sliced radishes
- Chopped walnuts
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Apricot vinaigrette (recipe follows) or the vinaigrette of your choice
- In a large bowl lightly dressing the claytonia with the vinaigrette. With tongs transfer the greens to salad plates. Top the dressed greens with the carrots, beets, radishes and walnuts. Add freshly ground pepper to taste.
- ¼c apricot balsamic vinegar
- 1t honey
- 1 small clove garlic, finely chopped
- ¼t Dijon mustard
- 1/3 to ½c extra virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- In a small bowl whisk all ingredients together. Season to taste with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.