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Produce Profile by Mark "Guido The Gardner" ® Ferro
Spring Salad
Spring is more than just a period of time between winter and summer. Spring signifies renewal and rebirth. After the heartier fare of winter, our gastrointestinal tract can use a breather. That is where vitamin and mineral rich, but lighter spring tonic salads make their entry.

The challenge here is to get beyond opening a bag of pre-washed salad greens and pouring half a bottle of thick salad dressing on this supposedly healthy mix. Spring is the natural harvest time for less common greens and salad fixings that years ago were nothing more than delicate wild weeds.

Arugula, also known as rocket or roquette has a flat, dark green leaf and are usually 4-5 inches long and are notched like a narrow oak leaf. The flavor is best described as "peppery", perfect for spicing up a salad.

For folks looking for a calcium kick ... increase your arugula intake! On the nutrition scale, no lettuce checks in at more than 100 mg for 2 cups. Cooking greens are higher at around 135 mg for kale, and 190 for turnip greens. But arugula has 309 mg of calcium for a 2 cup serving!

Radicchio not only adds a mild bite to a salad, it also provides an eye catching red color. It is round in shape, about baseball sized. The leaves are red with white ribs and are softer in texture than say cabbage. Radicchio provides the slivers of red color in loose and even some bagged salads. It provides a dose of vitamin A and some iron.

Frisee is a French endive which forms an open, flat head of very finely cut and delicate leaves. The outside leaves are a pale green and the "heart" or inner leaves are blanched to a creamy yellow color. The flavor is more mild and a bit nutty.

When shopping for frisee, you may end up with curly endive, which is a large open plant with broader leaves. This green tends to be much more coarse and even a bit stringy with a more bitter flavor. It also happens to have a bigger nutritional punch. It is high in calcium, vitamin C and also has a dose of beta carotene.

An increasingly popular green is watercress. Some people are only used to this flavorful green as a lettuce substitute in a sandwich, but it is much more than that. Include the tender leaves in any green salad. It also marries well with chopped vegetable or Asian salads. Like other tangy salad greens it is high in calcium and vitamin C, (second only to arugula in both categories.)

And if you really want to add some zing in your spring, reach for the dandelion greens. When raw they are very bold, although this subsides when they are cooked. In the calcium department they are on par with turnip greens, with lots of vitamin C and other minerals.

The above mentioned greens to not need to be the sole salad ingredients. It is perfectly acceptable to play mix and match with more traditional lettuces. In that way you will get more of a blend of flavor and textures.

To ease the calorie content of a finished salad, substitute a dollop of plain lowfat or nonfat yogurt for the creaminess of a high fat salad dressing. Mix that yogurt with a splash of balsamic vinegar for a surprisingly satisfying flavor. Also, you would be surprised what a generous squeeze of fresh lemon does to enhance the natural flavor of a green salad. Team that up with a sprinkling of sesame oil for a different salad dressing twist.

Greens with a bite, a seasonal and nutritious spring tonic!