By KATHY SMITH
Spring and summer are great times of year to explore a wide variety of fresh greens. Salads are popular any time, but how about being adventurous and trying some leafy greens you might not be as familiar with?
Leafy green vegetables are nutrient rich because leaves contain the light-catching, energy-converting machinery of plants. Salad greens contain Vitamin A, Vitamin C, beta-carotene, calcium, folate, fiber and phytonutrients. Leafy vegetables are a good choice for a healthy diet because they do not contain cholesterol and are naturally low in calories and sodium. Many of the health benefits come from phytonutrients, unique compounds that protects the plants. These compounds are recognized as part of a nutritious diet that promotes long-term health. The phytonutrients act as antioxidants, which can help prevent chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease.
Iceberg lettuce is still the most widely available and most popular type of lettuce. It tends to last longer in the refrigerator than other types of lettuce and adds a good crunch to your salad bowl. But iceberg has fewer nutrients compared to other types of lettuce and leafy greens, so your body will thank you for adding darker greens to the mix. A darker color indicates a more nutritious choice.
Here are some tasty greens that you might want to try on your next salad or sandwich:
• Watercress has a spicy flavor and is good in salads and on sandwiches. Choose green leaves without any yellow areas or slippery stems.
• Radicchio has maroon or purple leaves with white veins that form into a loosely wrapped cabbage-like head. Its flavor is bittersweet.
• Baby bok choy has a crunchy, celery-like texture and a milk flavor.
• Arugula has a peppery flavor. Choose young, fresh leaves.
• Red leaf lettuce is similar to romaine lettuce, but is higher in antioxidants and offers color and interest to a salad.
• Curly endive is attractive, have yellowish-green frilly leaves, have a strong, pleasantly bitter taste.
• Dandelion greens are available in some grocery stores. If you collect them yourself, choose young plants that haven’t been exposed to pesticides.
• Escarole’s flavor varies – lighter-colored portions are mild, but the darker portions of the leave can be bitter.
• Butterhead has a mild buttery flavor that forms into a soft head.
• Romaine is a Caesar salad favorite. Romaine stores well and its course texture holds well in salads.
• Spinach is always a good addition to a salad. Choose young or baby leaves. Savoy spinach has curly leaves but offers the same benefits.
Refrigerate greens within two hours of purchases. Store in a plastic bag or lettuce keeper. It is recommended that one should rinse lettuce under cold water just before using rather than before storage to reduce the risk of spoilage and bacterial growth on the leaves. Some lettuces can be difficult to clean so separate the leaves and immersing them in a bowl of cold water for a few minutes helps. Because lettuce and other salads are perishable, they should be used within one week after purchase.
Bagged salads can be convenient. To reduce the risk of food-borne illness, keep them refrigerated and observe “use by” dates on package. Rinse well before eating, removing any damaged or spoiled leaves.
Kathy Smith is a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service agent for Parker County. Contact her at (817) 598-6168 or firstname.lastname@example.org.