Miners Lettuce, Claytonia perfoliata grows wild up and down the west coast. It’s a lovely little plant for spring salads and is easy to grow. Rich in vitamins A and C, it was an important food for Native Americans, early settlers and gold rush miners. A few seeds sown in bare spots will show up as clusters of rounded leaves with tiny white flowers in the center. Stems as well as leaves are edible. Best picked when budded or blooming and before seeds form. The flavor is freshly green and grassy and melds beautifully with other ingredients.
A few years ago I was talking with Pam Peirce, author of Golden Gate Gardening, a year-round guide to food gardening in the Bay area. I asked if she liked mache/corn salad and she said “it’s ok, but I much prefer Miner’s lettuce”, so I began paying more attention to this garden green. Both now have an important space in my garden. With only a little encouragement both these plants will obligingly self sow.
Serves 3-6 depending upon appetites. A generous serving is a light main course.
4-5 cups Miners lettuce with stems, rinsed & trimmed
2-3 tablespoons fresh spearmint, finely chopped
6 small baked beets, peeled & sliced
2 tablespoons red onion finely sliced
4 teaspoons walnut oil
1 tablespoon red wine or sherry vinegar
salt & pepper to taste
1/3 to 1/2 cup cup walnut pieces or halves (toasted)
1 teaspoon salad oil
½ teaspoon sugar
2 to 4 oz. crumbled feta or goat cheese
To avoid tossing the delicate miner’s lettuce make this a layered salad. Spread out the greens on a serving dish and sprinkle with fresh spearmint. Combine beets, red onion, walnut oil, vinegar, salt & pepper. Spread beet mixture over the greens. Toast walnuts in a small skillet set on medium heat with oil and sugar. They’ll become fragrant and ready to use in 3-4 minutes, watch carefully as they can quickly go from perfect to scorched. Sprinkle cooled nuts over beets and last drizzle with cheese.