When I spot Epic Roots mache in the salad greens aisle, I invariably start humming Macho Man, the 1970s dance tune by the Village People. The pronunciation of the word has more in common with 1980s mosh pits (rhymes with posh), but I'll use any excuse to hum the tunes of my youth-in the grocery store, of course.
Yet beyond my in-store musical salute to the waning days of disco, what I'm really excited about is the novelty and sweet flavor of this salad green. I eat a lot of leafy greens and raw vegetables, and even with a plate of frilly bits (as I refer to mesclun), I longed for something new and different to chew on. Frilly bits were starting to feel so 1990s.
I had been reading about lamb's lettuce, as mache is also known, for a few years, and last growing season even purchased seeds so that I could grow it at home. At the time, mache wasn't easy to find in Texas, and in the Lone Star State, we home gardeners are typically able to grow salad greens in the seven cooler months of the year. Sadly, my first efforts came to little, due to overzealous thinning.
By now, though, many Whole Foods Markets carry mache, either on its own or in mixes. The real pleasures of this rosette-patterned green are its substantial, yet tender texture, and the taste, which is a mild, nutty-tasting foil to other, slightly bitter winter greens like arugula.
Cultivated in Europe since the 17th century, mache is still somewhat of a specialty green in the United States. However, NPR did a piece on mache a few years ago, so it could even overtake arugula in popularity over time.
Because of its low growing habit and size, mache is typically harvested by hand, leading to a slightly higher price compared to other salad greens in the produce aisle. Let's take a look beyond its upfront cost to value, especially nutritional value. A 50 gram serving of mache (an amount that would be the basis for an entrée-sized salad) can provide nearly 30% of your recommended daily intake of vitamin C. That same 50 grams weighs in at around 10 calories. Packed full of beta-carotene and Omega 3s, the soft, buttery leaves also provide plenty of antioxidants. Plus mache provides nearly a third more iron than a comparable amount of spinach.
For this enthralled fan, the flavor and texture more than make up for the few extra cents I'm spending per salad. Since I'm in the early phases of infatuation, I'm still eating my mache in rainbow-hued raw salads, but I've also thrown it into soups and sautéed some along with spinach and green onions in a light olive oil. If you'd like to try something a bit fancier, this Crawfish Cakes with Wild Ramps, Mache Salad and Orange Chili Vinaigrette recipe looks luscious! Or try the recipes on the Epic Roots website.
Now to get those seeds planted again...