Take persel, sawge, grene garlec, chibolles, letyes, leek, spinoches, borage ... fennel and toun cressis, rewe, rosemarye, purslarye; laue and waishe hem clene.
excerpt from recipe for salat from Forme of Cury, c. 1390
"Refreshing" may not be the first word that pops into your head when you think of medieval food, but that's exactly what this salad, or salat, is. After all, it's chock full of crunchy greens like watercress and fragrant herbs like the above-mentioned persel (parsley), sawge (sage), and rosemayre (rosemary).
It's also simultaneously familiar and surprising, insofar as greens with oil and vinegar are certainly not culinary news to anyone, yet the addition of the fresh herbs along with raw fennel, leeks, shallots, and garlic are not usually found combined in a modern salad, and it gives this dish a decidedly unique, yet pleasant, bite. I suspect that all the herbs and fennel were present not only for flavor, but perhaps for their breath-sweetening properties. I realize that the addition of raw leeks may tend to undercut my theory somewhat, but having eaten this salad, I found that the fennel really neutralized the onion breath quite a bit. (Others who encountered me that day may beg to differ!)
This is also a case where the general lack of ingredient amounts given in medieval recipes doesn't really matter that much - in fact, there's a lot of wiggle room as far as what you put in this, as long as you follow the general idea. You want to include fresh herbs, fennel, greens such as watercress, purslane, and/or baby spinach, and some combination of shallots, leeks, and/or garlic. According to one source I read, the garlic used - "grene garlec" - was referring to a wild garlic that's much less pungent than what is generally used in modern cooking. I certainly don't have a problem with eating raw garlic, but if you'd like to tone it down a bit, I think garlic shoots would do the trick.
One thing you don't want to include is iceburg letttuce, as it didn't exist in the Middle Ages. Frankly, I think that what the ancients may have lacked in mod cons, dental care, and proper footwear they nearly made up for by not being plagued with that most useless of lettuces, the tasteless iceburg. But I digress.
So, don't feel that you have to stick to this recipe exactly - I read several versions and went with what I could find, and I just tossed in the amounts that seemed right. It was crisp and crunchy and flavorful; such a nice dish to serve amidst all the heavy foods of the season!
A Salat of Herbs & Greens
1-2 leeks, chopped
2 medium shallots, chopped
1 fennel bulb, plus the leaves, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, or 3-4 garlic shoots
a handful of parsley, chopped
a handful of arugula, chopped (I used this as a substitute for purslane, a peppery green)
1 tbsp fresh mint, chopped
1/2 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped
a few fresh sage leaves, chopped
1 large or 2 small bunches of watercress (and/or baby spinach)
sea or kosher salt
red wine vinegar or malt vinegar
Combine all of the ingredients except the tender greens - the watercress, spinach if you're using it, and arugula. Drizzle enough olive oil to coat everything, sprinkle on the salt and stir. Let it sit for an hour or so to allow the flavors to incorporate. When you're ready to serve, add the greens, give it a toss and sprinkle on a little more salt along with a few shots of the vinegar, to taste.
You're going to need this salad break, because tomorrow for Day 7, I made a very spicy and tempting sweet treat. See you then!