Locker-room talk gets down and dirty. I shrug it off — the shoulder stretches, the backstroke technique, the chlorine-cleansing shampoo. But recently, when the banter turned to square-foot gardening, I dropped my comb. I begged for details.
The athletes smirked. How had I never heard of square-foot? Hot-cheeked, I grabbed my swim bag and, in privacy, Googled the technique. I ordered a book with photos. I even tried it.
It’s not that tricky: Build (or buy) a box, spread in lightweight soil, mark off tiny plots, drop in seeds. It’s easier than hacking through the standard sprawl of clay and weeds. It’s fun, coaxing along radishes and cucumbers and greens. And, though the bed is shallow, the process is deep.
After imposing a grid on the garden, I started cutting down other tasks — and found them simpler to manage. I might bring up that juicy tidbit, next time the shower room turns steamy.
Spring Green Salad
Prep: 20 minutes
Makes: 6 servings
1 pound (about 6) mini cucumbers
6 to 8 radishes
2 small shallots
1 cup creme fraiche, see note
1/4 cup snipped (about 1/2-inch long pieces) chives
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
A bit of milk, optional
1 bunch watercress (leaves and tender stems)
6 teaspoons capers (I like salt-cured, but brined are good too)
1. Slice: Trim cucumbers, and slice them into thin circles. Heap into a bowl. Trim radishes, and cut them into matchsticks — a mandoline makes this job easy. Measure 1 cup radishes and scatter them, confetti-style, over cucumbers. Trim, peel and halve each shallot, root to stem. Lay halves, cut-side down, on the cutting surface and slice, root to stem, into thin shards. Measure 1/2 cup. Scatter shallots onto salad. Toss.
2. Mix: Whisk together creme fraiche, chives, dill, lemon zest and juice. Season with salt and pepper. Thin this dressing with 1 to 2 teaspoons milk, if need be.
3. Toss: Pour much of the dressing over salad (you may not need it all), and toss.
4. Build: Set out 6 plates. On each, scatter a small handful of watercress greens (save one handful). Drizzle greens lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with flaky salt. Scoop 1 cup of cucumber salad onto each plate. Top with a few more watercress leaves. Scatter 1 teaspoon capers onto each plate.
Note: Crisp cucumber against rich cream is the essence of this dish. Substitute plain Greek yogurt for some or all of the creme fraiche, if you must, but it won’t offer the same slip-and-slide contrast.
Provenance: Inspired by Petit Louis Bistro, Baltimore.
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