CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- They might not be quite ready for harvest in your own back yard, but relatively fresh spring salad greens are available year round in the grocery store. I'm not talking about mustard, creasy, dandelion, collard or escarole, but rather about tender greens for salads. Whether purchased or harvested, these delicate greens don't last long.
The spring mixes or mesclun are great bases for salads. Made famous in sandwiches, watercress also stars in salads and soups. Cooks use peppery arugula in pastas, soups and pestos. Versatile spinach stars in soups, casseroles, appetizers, salads -- just about any dish besides dessert.
Salads can be a simple toss of greens and a dressing, or an elaborate and hearty combination topping of chopped vegetables, grilled meats, cheese, nuts, eggs or fruits.
However you build your salad, a salad spinner is an indispensable tool. A thorough wash with cold water and quick turn around the spinner renders clean, relatively dry greens that are salad-ready.
Nuts add crunchy, well, nuttiness to salads. Their flavor is considerably enhanced when they are toasted, either in a 400-degree oven, in a toaster oven, on the stovetop, or even in the microwave. Watch them closely until they turn a golden color, which will quickly deepen to an inedible burnt brown, within a matter of seconds, it seems.
Add protein in the form of hard-boiled eggs, tofu or leftover grilled flank steak, chicken, shrimp or fish to make a salad a meal. If you're watching calories and fat, go easy on cheese, chips, nuts, Chinese noodles, pepperoni and high fat dressings.
Here are some of my favorite combinations:
I like to dress salads that have fruit with a simple, sweet vinaigrette, often made with raspberry or red wine vinegar. Tailor the vinaigrette with soy sauce for the Asian salad or omit the sugar and add oregano and basil for Italian, Greek or Caprese salads.
Heartier salads such as the southwestern or California stand up to a creamy dressing.
No matter how you dress them, spring salads usher in the season of lighter, fresher fare.
Reach Julie Robinson at jul...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1230.
@recipe hed:Lime Chicken on Fruited Spring Greens
@recipe italic: Makes 2 servings
7 teaspoons lime juice, divided
3 teaspoons minced fresh thyme, divided
5 teaspoons plus olive oil, divided
2 5-ounce boneless skinless chicken breast halves
1/4 teaspoon salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon pepper, divided
1 small garlic clove, minced
3 cups spring mix salad greens
1 medium nectarine, mango or peach, thinly sliced
1/2 cup fresh raspberries
1/2 cup fresh blackberries
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
1/4 cup goat cheese, optional
@recipe dir: COMBINE in a large re-sealable plastic bag, 1-1/2 teaspoons lime juice, 1-1/2 teaspoons thyme and 1/2 teaspoon oil; add the chicken.
SEAL bag and turn to coat; refrigerate for 30 minutes.