As a season of the year, Spring is the well-named. As the sun’s rays grow stronger and the soil heats up, crocuses, grape hyacinths, daffodils, and dandelions rise up from the earth to proclaim another annual cycle of sprouting, budding, flowering, fruiting, seeding, withering, and dormancy.
Before the days of grocery stores, people stocked up on root vegetables such as potatoes, turnips, and carrots to eat over the long, cold winter. While these foods are nourishing and tasty when prepared well (and nourishing in any case), they just don’t deliver the life-force contained in a sprouted seed or leafy green.
The first plants to appear after the last frost are a welcome sight as the harbingers of Spring. But did you know that you can make a salad out of your new lawn?
No, not the grass, silly. And we are assuming you have a lawn. Even if you don’t, many grocers stock these healthy, seasonal plants in their veggie departments:
Dandelion – Before you dismiss the dandelion as merely that common garden weed with the bright yellow flower that turns into a white puffball whose seeds blow all over the place, know that this humble plant provides 535% of your daily nutritional requirement for vitamin K and 112% of your Vitamin A daily need? Eat the leaves from the young, tender plants raw, added to salad, or lightly steamed.
Watercress – This aquatic plant is reputed to have curative properties. It has been used as a folk medicine for ages. However, science has yet to investigate and confirm this belief. Be that as it may, watercress has a sharp, peppery taste which spices up a tossed salad, on a sandwich instead of lettuce, and in soups and stir-fried dishes.
Sorrel – This leafy green tastes a bit tart and lemony. Enjoy small amounts of it in raw green salads, mixed with milder greens. You can be more generous when adding sorrel to soups.
Arugula – This popular hefty and large green-leafed plant has a strong, almost peppery taste. It goes well to punch up a fresh salad or makes a terrific stir-fry dish.
Bok Choy – Bok choy is a type of Chinese cabbage which has thick, dark-green leaves. All choys are mainstays of Asian cooking and diet, best eaten cooked as an addition to soups or stir-fried. One cup of cooked Bok Choy provides 64% of the vitamin K DV, 59% of Vitamin C DV, and 40% of vitamin A.
Endive – Endive and its relative escarole contain many important medicinal compounds such as sesquiterpene lactones and plant sterols. Lactones such as lactucopicrin give endive its bitter taste but have been found to have anti-tumor and anti-inflammatory properties. As for the vitamin K DV, you’d better sit down: it’s 1481% with 222% Vitamin A DV, and 182% folate DV.
Swiss Chard – Dark green leaves along a thick stalk of red, white, yellow or green, makes this veggie stand out in a crowd. Related to beets and spinach, chards are featured in Mediterranean cuisine. One cup of Swiss chard yields 374% of the vitamin K DV and 44% of vitamin A.
Romaine Lettuce – This distinctive type of lettuce is the underpinning of the famous Caesar Salad. 2 cups of raw Romaine lettuce provides 107% of the vitamin K DV and 45% of vitamin A.
Beet Greens – The part that grows out of a beetroot – the red part most people think of as “beets” – is the beet leaf, or green. One cup of boiled beet greens delivers an astonishing 774% of your vitamin K DV, 61% vitamin A DV, 48% vitamin C DV, and 40% copper DV. Wow!
Cabbage – Be it green, white or purple, boiled, sauteed, or baked cabbage not only sticks to your bones – for a vegetable – but comes packed with vitamins and minerals you need to enjoy great health. One cup of cooked red cabbage takes care of 79% of the DV for vitamin K and 69% of vitamin C.
Spinach – Popeye the Sailor’s favorite leafy green – squeezed right out of the can – gives him all the strength he needs to fight evil-doers like Bluto. One cup of raw spinach provides 181% of the Daily Value (DV) for vitamin K, 56% of the DV for vitamin A, and 13% of the DV for manganese.
Freshness counts when shopping for all produce and especially leafy spring greens. Go for unbruised, unwilted leaves that aren’t wilting or turning yellow or brown. If there aren’t any, perhaps you need to shop somewhere else.
PREPARATION & STORAGE
My mother taught me always to wash vegetables before consuming them or using them in a recipe. Even now, with modern agricultural processors that do a great job of removing dirt, a few particles can remain behind. This is particularly true of leafy greens that grow close to the ground.
Get in the habits of running leafy greens under a slow tap or dunking them in a container of water to remove any last particles of grit. Wrap them in a towel (paper or cloth) to remove excess moisture or whirl the water off in a centrifugal salad spinner.
Spring greens such as arugula, sorrel, and watercress (high in vitamin C) can be eaten fresh or lightly steamed. Don’t cook the tenderness out of them.
Tender and delicate leafy greens do not store all that well and are best used right away – the same day is preferable. Wrapping greens in a paper towel inside a plastic bag or container can prolong their refrigerator drawer or shelf life but few last more than a week. Experiment with the moisture control to see which setting preserves fresh vegetables the longest.
Local climate has a lot to do with how long you can store greens before they spoil and rot. In arid Colorado, I had a head of red leaf lettuce last two months in the bottom of the fridge while in hot and humid southeastern Florida, the same produce would be reduced to unappealing mush with a few days.
All leafy vegetables are high in fiber which is great for your digestion and gut health. Leafy spring greens also provide significant amounts of potassium and beta carotene.
Some scientific studies have even attributed cancer-fighting effects to the nutritional components present in leafy greens.
Thanks to modern transportation systems, you don’t have to wait for Spring to enjoy many of the delightful and delicately flavored leafy greens that are oh-so-good for you.