Magazine article Sunset

Mild Mache: Taste Why the French Relish This Gourmet Green

Magazine article Sunset

Mild Mache: Taste Why the French Relish This Gourmet Green

Article excerpt

Once considered a coarse weed, mache (mahsh) is now a chic salad green. Before French farmers began cultivating it in the 17th century, mache (Valerianella locusta) was harvested from fields where it grew among cereal crops like corn, rye, and wheat--hence one of its common names, corn salad (it's also known as lamb's lettuce).

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The sweet, slightly nutty leaves are tender and juicy. To truly appreciate this delicacy, serve mache the traditional European way: lightly dressed with a simple vinaigrette. If you have hazelnut or walnut oil, this is the green to drizzle it on. The French also like to add chopped, hard-boiled eggs or sliced roasted beets. Mache is good mixed with sharper-tasting greens like arugula or endive. Or try braising it lightly as you would spinach.

As you might expect, mache grows as easily as a weed, but you'll need to start from seed since plants are seldom sold. Sow this cool-season annual directly in the garden as soon as the soil is workable. Mache is quite cold-tolerant, so late frosts won't harm it. It grows slowly, taking up to 60 days to mature, but you can snip off and eat outer leaves while the plant is growing. The leaves stay sweet on the plant for quite a while without turning bitter. When temperatures top 80[degrees], mache wants to bolt (go to seed). Harvest most of the rosettes but let a few flowers form seeds; mache self-sows readily, so next year's crop is likely to seed itself.

What it needs

* Cool air. Mache seed germinates best when temperatures are 55[degrees] to 68[degrees], making it suitable for planting in the early spring or in the fall. …

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