Give Now

Earth Eats: Real Food, Green Living

Volunteers In The Garden: Summer Salads, Walnut Vinaigrette

Volunteers are self seeded plants that spring up in the most unexpected places in the garden….your yard, your landscape….our world.

summer salad with black walnut vinaigrette

Photo: Alycin Bektesh (for WFIU)

Round up some "volunteers" from your garden and top it all off with this delicious black walnut vinaigrette for a great summer salad.

I get a kick out of gardening, but as George Bush said about his job: “It’s hard…it’s a lot of work.” We all need to pitch in to make things happen. So any time I want real change I make sure I have lots of Volunteers.

Volunteers are self seeded plants that spring up in the most unexpected places in the garden….your yard, your landscape….our world.

Asparagus Families

I’ve watched my asparagus families slowly set up time-shares throughout our property. Keeping a strong hold in its long narrow bed up towards the road, but also branching out (with the help of birds and other animals) to move to more resort-like beachfront territory.

I just let it go ahead and set up shop wherever it wants, as far as I’m concerned you can’t have too much asparagus. Thank you Mr. Asparagus.

Some cold weather workers are mache and arugula sometimes known as rocket. These greens are quite happy in late fall and early spring, but add a bit of hot weather and they try to bolt…or send up flower and seed stalks. I just let them bloom and seed and then look forward to seeing them in again when things cool down.

Heirloom tomatoes, especially cherry variety, seem to always come back from year to year. I love the tiny little currant tomatoes that spread like wildfire during the hot days of August and make clusters of tiny sugar-sweet candies perfect for topping salads, soups and sandwiches.

Volunteers In Training

I try to keep favorite varieties of these volunteers away from other plants in the same family or they will often loose their special traits through cross-pollination.

Just save a few seeds, dry them on a piece of paper towel  and scatter them in the general area you want them to perform and you’ve set the stage for some free fun the following season.

We all need to volunteer to make great change happen, luckily we have friends in the plant world that can set a good example for us.

Lefty’s Black Walnut Vinaigrette

My father was a baseball pitcher in his younger years and got the nickname of “Lefty” because of his mean lefty fast ball. Now in his seventies, Lefty is more likely to pick walnuts by the fireplace then to be found on the baseball diamond. It is a time consuming chore, but a man has to earn his vitals. This dressing is no curve ball. It is simple, elegant and easy to make. It is brilliant from late fall through the spring, especially on salads with a balance of sweet and salty components. Think pears and blue cheese.


  • 1 cup salad oil
  • 1/4 cup black walnuts, finely ground
  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar, highest quality
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
  • 4 tablespoons scallion, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 4 teaspoons fresh thyme, minced


  1. Heat salad oil and black walnuts in a sauce pan until they are lightly brown and oil is infused with the walnut flavor. Remove nuts and set aside.
  2. Cool the black walnut oil to room temperature.
  3. Whisk vinegar, lemon juice, scallion, garlic, mustard, honey, salt and pepper together.
  4. Slowly add the Black Walnut Oil. Stir in nuts and thyme.
  5. Make 2-3 hours  before using for flavors to marry and bloom. Then adjust seasoning if necessary.

Serve at room temperature.

Chef Daniel Orr

Chef Daniel Orr is the owner of FARMbloomington and the author of several cookbooks. He draws from a lifelong curiosity about individual ingredients combined with extensive training in the art of finding food’s true essence and flavor. The result is simple, yet sophisticated; the best of American food tempered by classic European training.

View all posts by this author »

What is RSS? RSS makes it possible to subscribe to a website's updates instead of visiting it by delivering new posts to your RSS reader automatically. Choose to receive some or all of the updates from Earth Eats:

Support For Indiana Public Media Comes From

About Earth Eats

Search Earth Eats

Earth Eats on Twitter

Earth Eats on Flickr

Harvest Public Media