Saturday, June 10, 2006

Don't Settle For the Same Old Salad, Go Bitter!

Restaurants these days have increased their salad options. Largely, of course, because of our new national nutrition concerns, but also because people are hipper and looking for some variety beyond the same old 'garden salad' fare.

Try eating weeds! Dark green bitter greens are packed with nutrition, and whether you are seeing them on a menu or are preparing salads at home, they are well worth trying.

Dark greens including arugula, nettles, dandelion, watercress and chickweed are the most healthful. Especially for the digestive system. When the bitter dark greens are chewed and eaten, the taste buds respond by increasing salivation. Then gastric acid secretion increases, (and) pancreatic enzymes are primed to respond when the food enters the small intestine, helping to maximize food breakdown and speed waste elimination. In other words your body will appreciate the 'spring cleaning'.

Dandelion leaves are experiencing a resurgence in popularity in restaurants. Chefs are recognizing the nutritional value and zippy taste of these little lawn invaders. Dandelions are rich in vitamin A and C and rank high in overall nutrition. And according to reliable medical resources, dandelion leaves are also a natural diuretic, increasing urine production by promoting the excretion of salts and water from the kidneys. Purchase in bunches at your produce stand.

Arugula also boosts vitamin A and C, calcium and fiber. Tangy arugula contains naturally occurring compounds called isothiosyanates, powerful anticarcinogens particularly effective in fighting cancers of the lung and esophagus (according to Drug Metabolism Reviews 2000, Vol. 32, #3-4.) You can find arugula year round in most grocery stores.

Nettles (Yes nettles, those little boogers in the woods that sting like crazy!) Nettles contain protein and dense amounts of minerals including iron, silica and potassium. The mineral content of nettles supply a basic energy source that helps support the nervous system and provides energy in times of fatigue and stress, according to Keegan Sheridan, N.D. of Beverly Hills, California. To harvest nettles, put on your rubber gloves first -to avoid the inevitable stinging when the leaves touch bare skin. Cooking will deactivate the sting.

Chickweed supposedly grows all over the world, and is well known for its medicinal uses. According to the Journal of Natural Products, Chickweed has calming effects on tissues when applied topically, and it's drying and cooling anti-inflamatory properties heal everything from cuts and burns to puffy eyes. Chickweed is an excellent edible green that is high in fiber, protein, and vitamin A.

Watercress grows partially submerged in creeks and streambeds. It contains abundant beta carotene which converts to vitamin A in your body. It contains more than 100 percent of the daily recommended intake of beta carotene. It is rich in cancer protective isothiocyanates.

Try arugula on a tomato and cheese pizza. Chickweed chopped in a waldorf salad, or with chicken and fish. Dandelion leaves (purchase at market, or grow in a garden at home) are great in salads. You can also saute them. Nettles can be served like cooked spinach, or the leaves dried for a tasty tea. Watercress is great for dressings and dips.

All these greens are best purchased in a produce section of a grocery store-or garden grown. Roadside plants are obviously not your wisest choice. Stinging nettles can be found in the forests - ouch.

The next time you see an offering of any of the above on a restaurant menu - wouldn't you want to give them a try?

A savvy chef knows his greens.

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