Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Day 6: Salat, a Crisp & Crunchy Medieval Salad of Herbs & Greens

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)
olive oil
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!


  1. This really sounds like a refreshing salad. I'm going to give it a try. I love fennel.

  2. I like letyes--I even grow my own! I am having seroius flashbacks of linguistics and my Olde English translation final exam from reading your blog! Delicious looking salat!

  3. Beautiful "salat". Love all the herbs you included.

  4. My kind of salad, so fragrant with all those herbs!

  5. Now this is what I call a salad! I'm so freakishly obsessed with fennel. It has that taste you cannot get anywhere except fennel itself. I used fennel seeds a lot more than I use fresh so this would be a great way to eat the fresh kind more often! I could eat this salad everyday!

  6. A lovely salad! I love the fennel and fresh herbs here.

  7. You have surprised me again - nice job…

  8. Wow a fun medley of greens! Sounds like it's a burst of flavor in your mouth!

  9. you dont think of salads in this era and this rocks, so full of fresh herbs

  10. This is so elegant would look great on any table accompany of any meal! Love fennel, so fresh and light...a healthy delight !!!!

  11. What a healthy and refreshing treat. I like all of the herbs you added.

  12. WHY do your salats always look extra green and crisp?! And that last photo ... left me gawking.

  13. @motherrimmey, @vegetablematter, @citron, @5StarFoodie, @Drick, @experimentalculinarypursuits, @pegasus, @freshlocalandbest: thank you! it really is so refreshing and yummy.
    @chowandchatter: i know, i thought it was fun because salads just don't seem medieval, yet they are!
    @sanjana: if you like fennel, you'll love Day 8!!
    @Ju: Really? Thank you! I have no secret! Maybe it's the glisten=y olive oil.
    @kelly: i would love to have this salad with home grown letyes!

  14. I love this! All my favorite flavors!

  15. Oh, how fun to think of eating the same dish as some medieval person from hundreds of years ago! Thanks so much for posting this...can't wait to try it.

  16. This does look fresh and pretty! I would love this.

  17. Congras on being the TOP! YAY babe :) You are doing a fabulous job.

  18. Great stuff. I am working on 15th century Italian recipes at the moment myself. Do love it when we manage to educate people that medieval cuisine was not just meat on a spit!

  19. I was searching FoodBuzz for a great salad for Christmas Day and found this!

    I purchased all the ingredients on Christmas Eve, put it together for the family dinner on Christmas Day and it was terrific! All commented on the minty "breath freshening" aspect of the salad. :D I was most impressed with the fresh taste and how well the flavors combined. It kept well too. An absolute winner!!

    Thanks for the whole medieval theme - what culinary fun! I may have to plan a whole medieval meal for next year. You're inspiring!