There is obviously a lot more to salad than iceberg these days, and there is also a lot more to greens than salad. Adventurous cooks as well as committed grazers should be excited by the variety of leafy vegetables and herbs on the market.
Arugula, radicchio, rappini and cilantro, considered exotic produce items only a few seasons ago, are now shipped to area food stores year round. But an even greater treat is that local producers are bringing yesterday's designer greens to the farmers' markets within easy reach of Washington-area residents.
If you are concerned about such fare as, say, ma~che being too sophisticated for your family's table, just ask your grandmother about lamb's lettuce or corn salad. Arugula had another life as rocket, and salad savoy as ornamental kale. While there are new items available (such as mizuna and tah tsai from Japan), in large part it's another case of everything old being new again.
The key to the green adventure is contrast. The sweet and the bitter mix well in a salad. They mix well in the pot, as well. Textures and temperatures can be used to advantage. Warm meat served on cool greens or the usually cool greens in a warm broth add new dimensions to old favorites.
In France, they have a name (mesclun) for the salad mixture of variously flavored and colored tender leaves and it is easing its way into our culinary vocabulary. Some seed companies have offered a mesclun assortment to grow in your own garden or, perhaps, on your windowsill. I was pinching arugula from my potted plants two weeks after they were put in the soil and they didn't mind at all. I mixed it with young red-leaf lettuce, also growing in pots, and dandelion greens and chives from the yard. Conscientious planters could have tender greens all summer by planting their pots at two-week intervals and moving them about to prevent overheating. Cover the pots with cheesecloth to hold in the moisture until the seeds sprout.
Some mature greens have pungent or bitter flavors but when young and tender most are mild enough for everyone. You might introduce new varieties into your salads mixed with familiar leaves, such as bibb, Boston or leaf lettuce. Children can be part of the adventure. Take them to the markets, or let them grow their own special greens to put in their salads.
As the season progresses and some greens become more assertive, there are wonderful and interesting things that may be done with them: Grilled duck or chicken breast on a bed of ma~che, radicchio and red oak-leaf lettuce. Curly endive dressed with warm bacon or chicken livers in the French fashion. Fresh filled pasta with a sauce of oil, garlic and bitter greens, such as arugula, mustard or cress.
Some of us will never tire of quick saute'ed spinach, a long-cooked mix of collards, mustard greens and turnip tops with pork, or young beets cooked and reheated with their tender tops, but there are many more ways of presenting these and other, less familiar, leafy foods.
Kale takes to a wok like a bok choy. It is hearty enough to hold together for a stir-fry. Just put a lid on the wok and steam the kale (without adding any extra water) for no more than about 15 minutes before proceeding with the rest of the recipe. My family especially likes kale stir-fried with mushrooms and a little onion. I add a tablespoon or so of Dijon mustard just before serving.
Rappini, a broccoli-like vegetable with more leaf and less stem and flower, is marvelous when blanched, chopped and saute'ed with garlic and olive oil. Try it stuffed in pita bread, focaccia or with white pizza.
Arugula becomes milder when cooked. I found that it added an interesting flavor and texture to a cornmeal stuffing for baked fish. It is also fine when shredded and added to a vegetable soup just before it is served.
Soups made from greens are usually good either hot or cold, making them a good choice for busy warm-weather days. Spinach is my favorite, but you may discover new taste treats by using odd bits of greens on hand. This is a good way to use Boston, bibb or other salad greens that have lost some of their crisp salad appeal.
Green, leafy vegetables are rich in fiber, vitamin A, calcium and potassium. They are also low in calories and most are low in sodium. Some, such as chard and beet greens, are a good source for iron. While nutrients are lost from the greens when they are cooked, you may recapture them in the cooking liquid, called pot likker in the South. It is delicious added to soups or on its own. It is also believed to be an excellent cure for a hangover.
GREENS SOUP (6 servings)
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 medium white onion, chopped
3 or 4 cups of shredded greens (spinach, watercress, sorrel, or mixed lettuce leaves)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups chicken or veal stock (homemade, if possible)
2 egg yolks
1 cup cream
Salt, pepper and herbs or spices to taste
Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan large enough to hold all the ingredients. Add the chopped onion to the pan and saute' on low heat until the onion is soft, but not browned. Add the greens and cover the pan. Cook the greens until they have wilted and cooked through, stirring often.
When the greens are cooked, add the flour and stir well. Cook for about one minute and add the stock. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 15 minutes. While the soup is simmering, mix the egg yolks with the cream. Add some of the soup to the cream mixture by spoonfuls, stirring, until the cream mixture is well warmed. Add the cream mixture to the pot and stir while continuing to cook on very low heat, for about three minutes.
Season to taste with salt, if desired, and white pepper. If you have used spinach, add a dash of freshly grated nutmeg. For other greens, a pinch of thyme or marjoram would be appropriate.
Note: If you wish to serve a creamed soup, pure'e the greens in a food processor, in batches, before adding the cream mixture. If using for a first course, you may make a richer soup by reducing the stock to 3 cups.
Per serving: 241 calories, 6 gm protein, 7 gm carbohydrates, 21 gm fat, 12 gm saturated fat, 156 mg cholesterol, 596 mg sodium.
Jane Adams Finn is a legal consultant in Chevy Chase and an ardent cook.