What kind of greens are dressed in this Honey Balsamic Vinaigrette?

Posted on March 30, 2011

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When I was growing up, we had a family tradition at dinner time. It was a game of sorts, known as “What did you learn today?” The gist was that everyone had to say one thing that they learned that day. This game was inspired by the author and motivational speaker Leo Buscaglia, who once told a story about how his father would ask each of his children to report on what they learned that day at the dinner table. My dad adopted this beautiful strategy, and I think it really worked to encourage knowledge, creative thinking, the pursuit of personal accomplishment, and a sense of family unity. That this was a tradition at meal time certainly points to the significance of food sharing and the opportunities it provides for those who regularly eat together.

Because we made this tradition into a game, we of course came up with all sorts of guidelines over the years about who starts, and how you pick the person who goes next, and how much time you have to think of something (the time was actually unlimited, but we would get a reminder every 5 minutes that it was our turn to say something; my dad had an uncanny knack for measuring minute intervals without–seemingly–needing a clock, odd…).

At one point in my life, probably when I was around ten and had put my creative thinking skills on ice, there was a special rule written up just for me to follow in playing this game. It was Rule #13 or something like that, and it stated something like, “Jennifer cannot say she learned anything related to food” (i.e. “I learned that I really like spaghetti,” or “I learned that I hate peas”). I guess I had a thing about talking about food even back then!

Thankfully, this sanction has since been lifted, and so I will proceed in reporting something I learned today that once again relates to food… I learned that I can’t identify watercress!

See, I went to a small grocery that has a lot of good deals on produce in my neighborhood in search of all things green. I was hungry for greens – lettuce, kale, spinach, cabbage, broccoli, cucumbers, jalepenos, pears… I purchased all of these and then, I came across a sign for “watercross.” I guessed this was most likely intended to signify watercress, a leafy green that has come highly recommended to me recently. I was drawn in because I have never before cooked with it, and I’m not sure I have ever tasted it before either, but this is debatable for reasons that will be revealed as I tell you the rest of this story…

This is the “watercross” that I ended up purchasing:

Now some of you may already be laughing… because as I later learned from Google, this is not likely watercress, or even watercross. Please forgive my ignorance, but I think that my purchase is actually Mizuna (or according to Wikipedia, may also be known as Xiu Cai, Kyona, Japanese Mustard, Potherb Mustard, Japanese Greens, California Peppergrass, or Spider Mustard). (4/10/2011) WRONG! Thanks to a comment from my awesome cousin, I stand corrected. I now think this is Frisee. I guess I need to eat more salad. Anyhow, it was delicious, and apparently it is pretty close to mizuna (which I guess I still need to taste-test), but it is a little less bitter. Both frisee and mizuna are apparently often included in “Spring Mix.” Maybe next year, both will grow in my garden, and I’ll really be a salad connoisseur!

Mizuna, I learned, is in the mustard greens family, and has long been a popular cultivar in Japan and other places around the world because it withstands the cold weather of Spring and Fall fairly well. Mizuna has somewhat of a bitter, peppery taste, but is still often featured in “spring mix” salads. In my searches, I also came across it in sautees, stir frys, and soups. And ta-da, there is more evidence of the fact that, as my dad always quotes from Mr. Buscaglia, “Everybody learns something every day!” (Ahem…and then you unlearn something and learn something else!)

I decided to make a honey balsamic vinaigrette to dress this salad in order to counteract the bitterness of the new leaf that I have now added to my list of identifiable and taste-tested greens.

And so let me just add, I learned something else today: I really like this salad!

Frisee Mizuna Salad with Honey Balsamic Vinaigrette 

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon honey
1 clove garlic, finely minced or grated
1 small bunch mizuna frisee (or mizuna if you like!)
1 bunch Romaine lettuce
Raisins

Wash greens thoroughly and toss in together in a salad bowl. Combine vinegar, olive oil, soy sauce, honey, and garlic, and whisk until fully combined. Dress greens with vinaigrette and toss in raisins.

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