Mustard greens salad with marinated pear and fennel

My greens guy must really like me. I mean, given how much I spend at his stand every week, how could he not? One day he went chasing after me as I made my way through the Carmel Market. Admittedly, I’d just paid for a big bag full of vegetables and absentmindedly walked away without it, but still.

Actually, I have two greens guys. One sells me fat bunches of herbs and loose salad greens — I’m not talking about him. I’m talking about the one who on any given week has a few kinds of green beans, usually some broccoli, bright green turkish spinach when in season, and occasionally things like brussels sprouts, napa cabbage, birds eye chilis and other vegetables loved by East Asian foreign workers and erstwhile Thai backpackers.

One week, after filling my bag there with everything leafy and green, and racking up quite the bill in the process (well, in shook terms; at least I splurge on spinach and not, say, shoes), I spotted a bunch of rough, ragged green leaves that I didn’t recognize.

Mustard greens, the seller told me.

Mustard is one of the many plants that grows wild here, and this is the season for all things leafy and green, but you’re unlikely to find mustard shoots quite that beautiful growing randomly in central Tel Aviv. OK, I’ll take a bunch of those too, I told the seller. He smiled approvingly. Hard sell, right?

I spent the rest of the week thinking about what to do with them. They’re sturdy but still soft enough to eat raw, and have a distinctive flavor — slightly spicy, slightly bitter — and I wanted to give them pride of place as the focus of a dish. What better way to do so than served raw, as the base of a salad?

I paired them with some other market finds — sweet fennel and pear, marinated until soft — and tossed in some tarragon to accent the light licorice flavor of the fennel. The result is an elegant salad in shades of green with a distinctive bittersweet flavor, perfect for an early spring day such as Tu Bishvat — Arbor Day.

As for the other greens guy — I have the best photo of him with my son, back when the latter was a tiny thing, only two months old. He’s staring at all the people passing in front of the stand on that busy shopping day in the Carmel Market. Baby. Mind. Is. Blown. Nowadays he’d be grabbing at all those greens and trying to eat them. Rightly so.

For about 4 servings, depending how you define a serving:

  • half a medium-sized fennel, thinly sliced (about 100 grams, or 1/4 lb.)
  • one medium-sized pear, thinly sliced (about 100 grams, or 1/4 lb.)
  • half a medium-sized onion, sliced into thin rings (about 50 grams — 2 oz.)
  • 2 tablespoons wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar (you could try date honey instead; I was all out)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 bunch of mustard greens, coarsely ripped (about 200 grams, or 1/2 lb.)
  • big drizzle of olive oil (25 grams — 2 tablespoons)
  • Optional: 2 tablespoons chopped green onion
  • Optional: 2 tablespoons chopped tarragon

In a bowl, mix the fennel, pear slices and onion with the vinegar, sugar and salt, and let sit for about 30 minutes, tossing occasionally to make sure the dressing is coating the fruit and vegetable slices. They should reduce in volume somewhat as the dressing pulls out their liquid.

Toss the marinated pear, onion and fennel (without the liquid) with the greens and the herbs, and drizzle liberally with olive oil. Serve.

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