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Healthy foods: spring salad greens

Salads have a healthy reputation, but not all salads are created equal. A salad can be a few limp leaves of iceberg lettuce covered in globs of fattening dressing - or it can be a bed of fresh, varied spring greens.

A spring green mix is sometimes called mesclun, from the French word for "mixture." A variety of greens get tossed into this mixture - leaves and stalks with interesting names and diverse flavours. The goal is to try to mix distinctive flavours - mild, bitter, peppery, and spicy - into a crisp, delicious flavour fusion.

Here's a rundown of a few common mesclun ingredients:

Arugula: Brits and Aussies call it rocket, likely a spin on the French word roquette, which itself is a version of the Latin word for "cabbage" - eruca. Whatever you call it, this long-leafed green has a peppery flavour that adds spice to salads. Arugula is low in calories and contains fibre, vitamins A and C, and calcium. It also has a good helping of vitamin K, the nutrient that helps blood clot properly.


Dandelion greens: The leaves of those buttery-yellow backyard flowers bring a bitter, tangy taste to your salad. When you see these jagged, pointy-tipped greens, you'll understand why the name comes from the French phrase dents de lion - "lion's teeth." Dandelion greens are a super source of vitamin A: one cup offers up more than 100% of your daily recommendation for this antioxidant. And at only 25 calories a cup, dandelion greens can be a low-calorie way to get the calcium your bones need.


Endive: This leafy vegetable from the daisy family is also known as chicory and comes in several different recognizable forms: curly endive (or "frisée" - French for "curly"), Belgian endive, radicchio, and a broad-leafed variety called escarole.

  • Frisée has a peppery, nutty bite and lends a frizzy texture to salads.
  • Belgian endives taste slightly bitter. They appear pale yellow or white because they're usually grown away from direct sunlight in barrels or boxes.
  • Radicchio is slightly bitter and crunchy and looks a lot like red lettuce.
  • Escarole is milder, less bitter than its other endive kin, and more lettuce-like, with broad green leaves.

All types of endive are low-calorie, high-fibre veggies rich in heart-friendly potassium.

Mizuna: Mizuna is a type of Japanese mustard green with saw-toothed leaves and thin, white stalks. This delicate, crisp salad green has a mild, sometimes sweet and earthy taste. Like other mustard greens, mizuna bursts with antioxidants, especially vitamins A and C. It is also rich in folate, fibre, and calcium.


Mâche: The nickname "Lamb's lettuce" suits this fragile green. Mâche's spoon-shaped leaves feel velvety to the touch, while its subtle flavour ranges from slightly sweet to mildly bitter. Add mâche to a salad for a big dose of antioxidant vitamins A and C, as well as calcium, fibre, and iron.


Watercress: Born in water with hollow stems, watercress spikes salads with a tangy, peppery taste. It is also a good source of vitamin A, vitamin C, and calcium. And thanks to its high content of beta-carotene and lutein, which have antioxidant properties, and a compound called glucosinolate, which has been shown to have anticancer properties, watercress is earning a reputation as a cancer-fighting food.


Amy Toffelmire


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