Ficoïde glaciale, or glacier lettuce (Mesembryanthemum crystallinum) is salty. This is not something you expect from a crispy green vegetable that didn’t come out of the ocean. But bite into one of the thick leaves, and the tiny bubbles that cover its surface burst open and hit your tongue with brine. This threw me for a loop until I stopped thinking of it as a salad green and started thinking of it as a plant-based alternative to bacon — a crunchy, salty, slightly decadent way to make nearly any dish more interesting.
If you can find ficoïde glaciale — check your farmer’s market or specialty produce store — consider this riff on spaghetti alla carbonara. Instead of the traditional pasta, I used warm soba noodles — the earthy buckwheat flavor balances out the salt nicely, and the slippery noodles made a great background for the crispy leaves. Like a cured meat or a sharp cheese, the glacier lettuce does double-duty as a seasoning, something to take into consideration when salting your other ingredients.
I had planned to add some green garlic stems, but they were all buried under the pea trellis, which is in the process of collapsing. Scallions were more accessible. I did at least manage to reach a few handfuls of plump pea pods, which went in as well. For those playing along at home, the peas are Taichung 13, from Kitazawa Seed Company. The variety is a favorite of mine, with shelling-style peas encased in sweet, edible pods — the best of both worlds. They’re delicious raw, but I gave these about 30 seconds in the hot pasta water, just to warm them up a little.
A quick visit to the herb garden found the vietnamese coriander and mint plants nicely recovered from their winter quietude and ready for another season of trying to take over the garden. I used a small handful of each, though you could absolutely use any combination of herbs you like. To add richness and a hit of acid, I drizzled the assembled plate with a bit of toasted sesame oil and rice wine vinegar; again, you could go with other dressings to suit your herb selections.