- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Mache, a longtime favorite salad green in Continental Europe and Great Britain, is now appearing on the shelves of American markets, and I, for one, am delighted.

Mache — it rhymes with gosh — grows in small clusters of round, bright green leaves and has a toothsome, nutty flavor.

It is a wonderful addition to a cook’s repertoire. Not only does this tender green pair well with just about everything from cheese to fruit to beef to seafood, it is also sturdy enough to use in soups, stir-fries and warm salads.

I keep mache on hand year-round, adding a handful to sandwiches, wraps and salads, not just for its flavor but also for its brilliant color and interesting shape, which makes a nice change from lettuce.

For example, I find that mixing mache, arugula and butterhead lettuce with a simple vinaigrette makes a tasty bed for sliced, grilled chicken breast, pan-seared salmon, or thinly sliced beef.

One of my favorite sandwiches is leftover lamb roast sliced on country bread that I’ve slathered with Dijon mustard and mayonnaise and stacked with a handful of mache peeking out of the edges. Mache also has a way of giving an Asian-inspired noodle soup a colorful accent with its rounded, petal-shaped leaves, or adding color and interest to an Italian soup of clear broth infused with Parmesan.

Mache is also known as lamb’s lettuce, a name, according to legend, given it by European shepherds. The shepherds observed the lambs eating the wild little greens growing in the grain fields in spring and decided to try it.

They named it lamb’s lettuce. It is also known as corn salad because corn was once the name used for grains in general. In Germany, however, it is known as feldsalat, or field salad.

Mache, like lettuce, grows best in cool weather.

It is sold in many supermarkets, washed and ready to use, in convenient plastic bags. Stored in the refrigerator, mache will last up to a week, or even longer.

Mache and Parmesan soup

This is simple, quick to make, light yet with full-bodied flavor. The mache wilts into the soup, retaining its petal shape and slightly peppery taste, while the Parmesan provides complexity for the broth. Serving the soup spooned over garlic-rubbed, Parmesan-topped toasts adds body and reinforces the flavors.

Watercress or even baby arugula might be used instead of mache.

4 slices baguette or other sturdy country bread

1 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 clove garlic, peeled

4 cups homemade or bought chicken broth

2 tablespoons dry white wine

1-ounce chunk of Parmesan cheese with rind

1 cup mache

cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Place baguette or other bread slices on a broiler pan and broil until golden, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from broiler and drizzle with olive oil. Rub garlic across the surface of the toast. (The irregular, crisp surface of the toast will act like a grater.) Set toast aside.

Put chicken broth in a saucepan and add wine. Bring liquid to a boil and boil, uncovered, to reduce by a tablespoon or two. Add the Parmesan rind and reduce the heat to low.

Simmer, covered, until the cheese has begun to melt and the broth is flavored by it, about 25 minutes. Add the mache and cook another 2 minutes.

Place a piece of toast in the bottom of each of 4 soup bowls. Sprinkle toasts with a tablespoon of the grated Parmesan, then ladle the hot soup over the toast.

Makes 4 servings.

Skewered lime and ginger prawns with watercress, mache and frisee

A mixture of crisp, refreshing and colorful greens can form the base of almost any type of salad, and the green can offer an especially good contrast to hot and spicy ingredients, such as the prawns in this recipe.

Spicy chicken, beef or sea scallops are good, as well, and a mesclun mix would work as a substitute for the greens.

3/4 pound medium prawns (about 24), all but tail shells removed

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

⅓ cup lime juice

1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger root

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

teaspoon salt

teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

SALAD:

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon lime juice

teaspoon rice vinegar

teaspoon salt

teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 cups watercress leaves

2 cups mache

Vegetable oil

Presoak 4 wooden skewers in water to prevent them from burning. Prepare a charcoal or wood fire in a grill or preheat a broiler.

In a bowl, combine 2 tablespoons olive oil, lime juice, ginger root, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper.

Add the prawns and stir until coated, then set aside and let marinate for about 20 minutes.

In a large salad bowl, combine the olive oil, lime juice, rice vinegar, salt and pepper and mix well. Place the watercress and mache in the bowl without tossing and set the salad aside.

Evenly divide the prawns and skewer them, placing them closely together. Set aside.

When the grill is ready, grease it with a little cooking oil, then grill the skewers for 2 to 3 minutes on each side until firm and opaque. If you are using a broiler, broil about 4 minutes per side.

When the prawns are done, toss the salad and evenly divide it among four salad plates, placing a hot skewer atop each salad. Serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.

Green herb, butterhead and mache salad with sherry-shallot vinaigrette

Bright crisp flavors of fresh herbs play against the background flavors and colors of pale green butterhead lettuce and deep green mache.

The herbs can be varied, according to personal taste, and arugula, spinach or mesclun might be used instead of mache.

This is a particularly good salad to serve with a cheese course or to accompany a rich, roasted dish such as duck, pork or chicken.

cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons minced shallots

2 tablespoons sherry vinegar

teaspoon salt

teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

cup Italian parsley leaves

cup minced chives

cup cilantro leaves

6 to 8 leaves butterhead lettuce, torn into bite-sized pieces

2 cups mache

In the bottom of a salad bowl, mix together olive oil, shallots, vinegar, salt and pepper. Taste. If desired, add more salt. Add parsley, chives, cilantro, lettuce and mache and turn well to coat.

Makes 4 servings.

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