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Mix up the greens in your salad

September 09, 2009|By LYNN LITTLE / Special to The Herald-Mail

Lettuce, spinach and other salad greens are an important part of a healthful diet. Iceberg lettuce has long been the primary choice for salad greens. However it would be more nutritious to include other green leafy vegetables in your salads.

Today there are many varieties of greens to choose from, whether you're in the produce section or attempting to decipher salad options on a restaurant menu. The multitude of salad greens available offer a range of color, texture and flavors. Some aren't even green.

But if you're not familiar with the many varieties it is difficult to decide which greens to choose.

Many types of lettuce are available in the grocery store and may be purchased by the head or as prepackaged salad greens. Different types have different flavors, ranging from mildly sweet to bitter.

Commonly available salad greens include green- and red-leaf lettuce, romaine, butterhead and iceberg. All of these types of lettuce make great combinations in the salad bowl. The red and dark-colored leafy vegetables are generally higher in nutrients than the light-colored greens.

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Salad greens that you can find as part of a salad mix or sold separately include arugula, bok choy, Belgian endive, curly endive, radicchio, spinach and watercress.

In addition, you might find a mesclun mix - a mix of tender, baby greens. The traditional mix includes chervil, arugula, leafy lettuces and endive in equal proportions. A mesclun mix might also include greens such as mustards, cresses and parsley as well as wild greens and all kinds of lettuce. The mix of greens is intended to impact how it looks and tastes. The flavors in this colorful mix range from bitter to sweet to tangy and combine both crunchy and silky textures.

Handle with care

Salad greens are eaten raw, so keeping them free of pathogens is important. Along with refrigerating salad greens, you will need to follow some other safe handling procedures to help avoid foodborne illness.

When shopping, pack fresh salad greens in plastic bags so they are kept separate from other groceries, especially raw meats and poultry, eliminating the possibility of cross contamination. Follow this same rule when preparing other ingredients for salads by keeping cutting boards for salad ingredients and raw meat separate.

Always wash your hands before preparing salads and make sure you are working on a clean cutting board.

Wash salad greens either by immersing them in cold water or running cold water over the leaves.

For prepackaged salad greens, even when bags are labeled "triple-washed" the safest practice is to wash these greens at home. This is especially important for pregnant women, young children, the elderly and others with compromised immune systems.

For healthier salads, try adding a different type of salad green mixed with your usual choices.

To find ideas for fresh salads using dark green, leafy vegetables, visit www.fruitsandveggiesmatter.gov .

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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