Spring leaves

Categories: Product of the week

A guide to the many seasonal salad leaves arriving in the Market

Wild garlic, bull’s blood, corn salad and dandelion are some of the names that trip off the tongue of Borough Market’s greengrocers at this time of year, as the spring leaves season arrives and young plants bursting with taste begin to become available. The traditional way of using them is to combine them with other seasonal varieties—lollo biondi, frisée or butterhead lettuce—for added flavour, or as a base for creating delicate side salads.

Christian Honor, Borough Market demonstration chef and owner of ChrisKitch cafe, however, has a more adventurous approach to these seasonal treats. “I think we need to change our frame of mind when it comes to using spring leaves,” he says. “For me, they get really exciting when you expand the way you think about them. At the restaurant we think of spring leaves as a seasoning, which opens up a whole new world of possibilities for leaves like dandelion, bull’s blood and wild garlic.”

Beautiful as garnishes
Take a closer look at the wide variety of spring leaves available and you’ll find they have so much to offer. “They look beautiful as garnishes and have wonderful flavours. Some are great if you want to a peppery component, others have that citrusy flavour, while others will bring a bitter note.”

Stroll around the Market at the moment and you’ll see the vibrant green of wild garlic leaves at various stalls—Elsey & Bent, Fitz Fine Foods and Turnips have them in numbers—and Christian has a use for it you may not have come across. “When wild garlic is really fresh, I love to use it to make a tuna tartare,” he says. “It doesn’t sound incredibly sexy, but it is such an easy thing to do and it really brings a whole different dimension to the dish.”

Heaps of bull’s blood
Bull’s blood—so called for the deep red colour of its leaves—is another spring leaf that’s around at the moment. “One really nice way to serve it is on a cheese platter,” suggests Christian. “Take a good cheddar, heap a decent helping of bull’s blood leaves on the board and serve with a little dip of honey. We know cheese and honey is a great combination and just adding the bull’s blood sounds simple, but it’s an amazing combination—trust me, it will knock your socks off when you try it.”

One unexpected way this inventive chef suggests using spring leaves is in desserts: “We use a mustard cress, which is more in the microgreen family, as a garnish to salted poached pear and a really rich caramel fudge,” he explains. “We use the real peppery bitterness of the cress instead of a more traditional citrus element, and it’s amazing. It looks beautiful too, so it really works on both levels.”

“Spring leaves are very versatile as a group, but we never see them that way,” Christian continues. “They look sexy, and they do add real value to the dish—they are not there as a piece of cosmetic enhancement. The next time you are at Borough just ask the greengrocer which ones they have available, then take some home and have a play. You will find out just how wonderful they are.”