As we welcome spring, when the world sloughs off its cold, crusty mantle and awakens to the new, it's time to celebrate tender leaves, otherwise known as spring mix.
Think mild, sweet spinach; vibrant, earthy baby kale; frilly, peppery arugula; bright-stemmed chard; even astringent dandelion greens - all the glorious green leaves of spring. From cool jade to deep jungly green, they're more vibrant in color, flavor, and nutrients than that pale bowling ball of supermarket iceberg lettuce.
And soon enough, your local groceries or farmer's markets will be stocked with the little darlings that have been grown locally, with even more taste, texture, and nutrients than the stuff that has been trucked across the country.
If you knew there was a pill that was anti-inflammatory and immunity enhancing, rich in Vitamins C and A, iron, calcium, folate, and a wealth of antioxidants, you'd pop it at once. Spring greens have all that plus all kinds of phytochemical majesty and mystery. They also contain fiber, as much, if not more, than the packaged, processed foods that boast of their fiber content. What's more, the leaves of spring are easy to digest and don't leave you feeling like the fiber bar you ate last month and is still hanging around in your stomach today.
Don't let the sheer abundance of spring greens elicit panic. They are so bountiful, so eager to please, and there's so much of them, you don't know how to make them behave. Relax. These greens at their most tender and new need very little. They don't want to cause a fuss. And they would like to stay green. There's no need to boil them down to a pot of misery: Enjoy the freshness of the season by tossing new leaves with other vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, or whole grains.
Try this recipe for green bean salad from the cookbook Plenty, written by the owners of London's Ottolenghi. "This salad - offering a good balance of clean freshness from the beans with the punchy complexity of the herbs and spices - works in plenty of contexts," writes author Yotam Ottolenghi. He suggests teaming it with an array of hearty salads for vegetarians or pairing it with grilled lamb chops for a carnivore crowd.
Think of spring greens not as healthy (though they are), nor as food to be feared (because they're not). They're your golden, and green, opportunity to commune with spring, with tenderness, and with the fresh, local abundance at your farmer's market and in your CSA (community supported agriculture) box.
It's officially spring, so celebrate with all the lovely leafy greens of the season.
Green Bean Salad With Mustard Seeds and Tarragon
Makes 4 servings
1 1/4 cups green beans, trimmed
2 1/4 cups snow peas, trimmed
1 3/4 cups grean peas (fresh or frozen)
2 teaspoons coriander seeds, roughly crushed with a mortar and pestle
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon nigella seeds
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
1 mild fresh red chile, seeded and finely diced
1 garlic clove, crushed
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons chopped tarragon
Coarse sea salt
2 cups baby chard leaves
1. Fill a medium saucepan with cold water and bring to a boil. Blanch the green beans for 4 minutes, then immediately lift them out of the pan and into iced water to refresh. Drain and dry.
2. Bring a fresh pan of water to a boil and blanch the snow peas for 1 minute only. Refresh, drain, and dry. Use the same boiling water to blanch the peas for 20 seconds. Refresh, drain, and dry. Combine the beans, snow peas, and peas in a large mixing bowl.
3. Put the coriander seeds, mustard seeds, and oil in a small saucepan and heat up. When the seeds begin to pop, pour the contents of the pan over the beans and peas. Toss together, then add the nigella seeds, red onion, chile, garlic, lemon zest, and tarragon. Mix well and season with salt to taste.
4. Just before serving, gently fold the chard leaves in with the beans and peas, and spoon the salad onto plates or into bowls.
Per serving: 204 calories; 8 grams protein; 21 grams carbohydrates; 8 grams sugar; 11 grams fat; no cholesterol; 68 milligrams sodium; 8 grams dietary fiber..