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Exotic salad

Building a romaine empire

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The galaxy of lettuce leaves in the market these days means more varieties of salad than the standard kachumber. Red Batavia, lollo rosso, pentared, rouge grenobloise, arugula, romaine...the shelves of premium supermarkets are full of exotic salad greens.

The demand for exotic lettuces is such that individuals - a small number - have begun growing them in kitchen gardens. Like Kanu Somany, a Delhi-based organic farmer who focuses on leaves.

It all began in 1989 when Somany moved back to India from the UK with her husband. She had a tough time finding the sort of greens and salad ingredients they were used to in the West. Furthermore, Somany's husband kept falling ill after eating raw vegetables from the market, which more often than not were laden with pesticides and toxins.

"My husband would ask for baby romaine lettuce, and I would be: 'Dude, you can't even get lettuce here forget romaine, '" Somany says. "I found it easier to grow them than to source. " Somany began growing greens for herself nine years ago;she would often distribute the surplus among friends. "Eventually, people suggested that I grow more and supply them for money because they wanted it but didn't want to ask for it for free, " she says.

Today, Somany grows a variety of salad greens, vegetables, edible flowers and herbs on a larger scale and supplies to households in Delhi and Gurgaon on demand. Somany says that her produce is free of pesticide and chemicals and grown with just the help of mulch and compost. She terms it farm-to-fork delivery. Growing vegetables in Delhi's extreme climate is hardly easy. In order to manage seasonal changes and satisfy her own whims and fancies, Somany regularly changes her menu offerings. She says, "I grow a variety of greens for salads (a wide range of lettuces, sorrel, arugula, watercress, etc) and for braising (kales, mustards), root vegetables, and also herbs like dill, chives, rosemary, etc. And as the weather warms, these are followed by a medley of cherry and heirloom tomatoes. "

Somany, who spent most of her childhood on her family farm near Delhi, says that she initially catered to Delhi's expatriate community. Her customer demographic has now expanded to include locals, a development she attributes to rising health concerns, teenage dieting, well-travelled palates and the seriousness now accorded to salads. Her salad ingredients can also be found at a few top-end supermarkets in Delhi. But she insists that deliveries made directly to homes are fresher than aisle purchases as freshness is the single most important ingredient.

Somany's home service has grown only through word-of-mouth, as she does not take up orders from strangers. "It is much better to have a customer referred by a friend and who tasted my ingredients at a friend's place the night before, " she says. "Earlier I have had complaints about not delivering on the same day, which I never promise. I am doing this for fun. I am not a nukkad veggie vendor. "

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