Are Your Salads as Healthy as You Think?

Are Your Salads As Healthy As You Think? Not If You’re Forgetting These Ingredients . . .

One of the many great things about summer is all the gorgeous produce. Though grocery stores are pretty good at stocking a decent selection of salad greens year round, come June, farmers markets offer many more interesting and varied choices. Lately, I’ve become a fan of some of the lesser known, spicier greens like tatsoi and mizuna – a combination that my local farmer’s market sells – along with some pretty edible nasturtiums thrown in.

Tatsoi, also called Spinach Mustard, is an Asian variety of Brassica rapa which has oval leaves (like a spoon) and grows clusters of yellow flowers. Also in the Brassica family is Mizuna, also called Japanese Mustard. The leaves on this are fringed, as if they’ve been sheared. Both are subtly peppery in flavor – slightly more piquant than arugula or watercress. Combine them with any other milder green or have them on their own.

When it comes to building an interesting, healthy salad, don’t forget about herbs. In a recent New York Times piece “Breeding the Nutrition Out of Our Foods,” Jo Robison – author of Eating on the Wild Side: The Missing Link to Optimum Health – discusses how excessive domestication of many of our fruits and vegetables has stripped them of their nutrients and vitamins.

Not so with herbs she states: “Herbs are wild plants incognito. We’ve long valued them for their intense flavors and aroma, which is why they’ve not been given a flavor makeover. Because we’ve left them well enough alone, their phytonutrient content has remained intact.”

And besides packing a nutritious punch, adding them to a salad can also bring an instant zing and another flavor dimension. There’s a restaurant in Seattle that I go to that serves a side salad made up of only herbs: a bombastic combination of dill, parsley and mint served alongside lamb with a tzatziki yogurt sauce. It’s palate thrilling and cleansing at once, and got me experimenting at home.

In my backyard, I now grow basil, cilantro, anise, mint, chocolate mint and oregano. Come dinner time, I often go grab a couple handfuls of cilantro or mint to mix into a basic salad of baby greens. It’s wonderful to get that occasional bite of “wild flavor.”

But once you’ve made that perfect salad, don’t kill it with unhealthy, oil-laden dressing. Nowadays, there are incredible tasting vinegars out there that can stand alone as a dressing. My go is Trader Joe’s “Orange Muscat Champagne Vinegar.” The orange flavor cuts the astringency of the vinegar and lends just the right amount of sweetness.

Bottom line: don’t be afraid to experiment with different varieties of lettuce and herbs in your salads (and vinaigrettes). The results may be surprisingly delicious.

Photo Credit: Dani Vincek/

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