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Go for the greens
Today's greens scene offers lots of variety, good taste

Over the past decade, there's been a noticeable decline in the consumption of iceberg lettuce. We've got a theory about this plunge in iceberg lettuce sales that occurred shortly after the release of the movie "Titanic." Suddenly the popularity of the old salad standby repelled the lettuce-eating public.

Just how many times can a moviegoer stand to watch an evil iceberg do great harm to the actor/passengers and a fancy ship?OK . . . so it was just a movie -- but there have been reports of shoppers wheeling their carts away from heads of iceberg lettuce.

Shocking. Lettuce continue.

With the vast variety of greens now available in grocery stores, it's an adventure trying previously unknown tastes and textures of lettuce. By the way, nutritionists are announcing that iceberg is surprisingly inferior to greens.

Wahida Karmally, one such nutritionist from Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York, says that iceberg lettuce is just a filler -- mainly water. She recommends "shelling out for loftier leaves." A drawback to the trendy green scene is the expense. Greens cost much more than iceberg . . . but it's a matter of personal choice. If iceberg is your thing, chomp away.

"Eat your greens -- give your body what it really wants" is the message from a group encouraging consumers to try a mix of lettuces (bet they're associated with the lettuce industry).

Get acquainted with Boston greens, exotic Chinese cabbage, ruby radicchio and delicate mesclun. They're all delicious choices.

The "salad days" are here again!

It's generally the rule that the darker the greens, the more vitamins and nutrients they pack. That's why so many nutritionists recommend breaking away from the habit of eating nothing but iceberg lettuce -- it contains very few nutrients, but mixed with other types of greens, iceberg adds a crispy crunch to cooling salad.

Greens are loaded with vitamins and other nutrients. The forceful antioxidants vitamins C, E and A are found in the leaves. Greens and lettuces are also high in soluble fiber, which has been linked to reducing "bad" cholesterol (the bonus we get from scarfing down an order of french fries).

Try a bunch of oak leaf lettuce -- it's more flavorful than iceberg or romaine. It grows in open heads that are deep with colorful pigments. Among these are antioxidant compounds that, once in your bloodstream, may help neutralize the "free radicals" that promote cancer and heart disease.

A French favorite gaining ground in this country is curly endive (sometimes called frisee). It's the perfect roughage -- a green laced with the kind of fiber (insoluble) that researchers now say can ward off intestinal tract cancers.

Arugula (ah-ROO-guh-lah) is another cancer-inhibitor. Also known as rocket, arugula is a cruciferous vegetable, a member of the mustard family.

Watercress is a type of mustard green. The spicy taste comes from chemicals found in the plants called mustard oils, or isothiocyanates, which are believed to combat carcinogens. Folic acid is also present in these greens -- and contributes to healthy blood circulation.

By selecting one or more of these greens for a salad, you can get a salad packed with vitamins and minerals -- all for just 15 calories per bowl.

A warning: Watch the fatty add-ons. You can quickly destroy the positive benefits of eating salad by piling on less-healthful toppings.

So many common salad ingredients -- lettuce, tomatoes, bell peppers and cabbage to name a few -- contain absolutely no fat or cholesterol and are low in carbs and sodium. Avoid salad goodies with high calorie counts such as avocado, bacon or nuts and croutons.

The leading source of fat in the diet of the middle-age American woman is salad -- or more precisely salad dressing, says a survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Close to 10 percent of all fat consumed by women between 19 and 50 comes from those tempting salad toppings.

When "eating light," watch the goodies you balance on the plate of lettuce. If you've got 2 pounds of lunch after a trip through the salad bar, perhaps you might rethink your salad scenario.

Although the popularity of piling everything from goldfish to raisins atop a bed of lettuce is waning, a reminder to watch your plate weight is in order.

Go ahead, march to a different beet and try some new greens. They're certainly safer than icebergs.

SOUTHWESTERN CAESAR SALAD

For the dressing:

1/4 cup sour cream

1/2 cup olive oil

1/4 cup fresh lime juice (about 2 medium limes)

1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro

2 tablespoons chili powder

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 tablespoon minced fresh chile pepper of your choice

Salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste

For the salad:

1/3 cup olive oil

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 tablespoon ground cumin

2 cups diced cornbread, in 1/2-inch cubes, or other bread of your choice

1 head romaine lettuce, outer leaves removed, inner leaves washed, dried, and torn in halves or thirds

2 avocados, peeled, pitted, and quartered

2 medium tomatoes, cored and quartered

1 small red onion, peeled, halved, and thinly sliced

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

In a small bowl, combine the sour cream and olive oil, and whisk together (it will look a little curdled, but don't worry). Add the remaining dressing ingredients and whisk to blend (now it should be smooth). Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the olive oil, garlic, and cumin and mix well. Add the bread cubes and toss well to coat. Put the seasoned cubes on an ungreased baking sheet and bake in a 350 degree F. oven until crisp on the outside but still chewy inside, about 10 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine the romaine lettuce, avocados, tomatoes, and onion. Stir the dressing well, add just enough to moisten the ingredients (there will be some dressing left over), and toss to coat. Sprinkle with cheese and croutons, and serve. Serves 6.

Each serving contains 603 calories, 9g protein, 49 fat, 36g carb, 697mg sodium, 32mg cholesterol. From "Lettuce in your Kitchen" by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby.

ARUGULA AND SWEET RED PEPPER SALAD

2 large heads of leafy green lettuce (romaine, etc.)

2 bunches arugula

1 pound fresh mushrooms

3 large sweet red peppers

Balsamic Vinaigrette (recipe follows)

Discard outer leaves of lettuce; separate and rinse (if necessary) the inner leaves and dry thoroughly. Wrap in clean dish towel and refrigerate.

Remove arugula leaves from their stems, rinse, and dry thoroughly. Wrap and refrigerate.

Remove stems from mushrooms and reserve for another use. Wipe each mushroom cap with a damp paper towel, or cloth; wrap and refrigerate.

Cut away the stems and ribs of the red peppers; discard the seeds. Slice peppers into fine julienne, wrap and refrigerate.

To assemble, tear the lettuce leaves into bite-size pieces and combine with the arugula. Divide among 6 chilled salad plates. Slice mushrooms and sprinkle evenly over greens. Arrange red pepper julienne over mushrooms. Drizzle each plate with Balsamic Vinaigrette and server immediately. For a more informal presentation, combine all ingredients in a large salad bowl and toss with vinaigrette just before serving. Serves 6.

Each serving (with vinaigrette) contains 543 calories, 13g protein, 39g fat, 43g carb, 152mg sodium, 0mg cholesterol. From the "Silver Palate Cookbook" by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins.

BALSAMIC VINAIGRETTE

1 garlic clove, unpeeled

1 tablespoon prepared Dijon-style mustard

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 cup best-quality olive oil

Cut garlic clove into halves and rub the cut sides over the inner surface of a small bowl. Reserve the garlic.

Whisk mustard and vinegar together in the bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Dribble oil into the bowl in a slow steady stream, whisking constantly, until dressing is creamy and thickened and all the oil has been incorporated.

Taste and correct seasoning. Add reserved pieces of garlic; cover the bowl and let the dressing stand at room temperature until you need it. Remove the garlic and rewhisk the dressing if necessary before using. Makes about 1 1/4 cups.

THREE LETTUCE CHIFFONADE

1 head radicchio (about 1/4 pound), core removed

2 heads bibb lettuce ( 1/4 pound), core removed

1/2 head iceberg lettuce ( 1/4 pound), core removed

1 green bell pepper

1/4 cup olive oil

3 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Salt and fresh grated pepper to taste

Rinse, drain and pat dry the radicchio, bibb and iceberg lettuce. Roll leaves of radicchio and cut them into very fine shreds. Repeat with bibb and iceberg lettuce. Place shreds in a large bowl. Cut green pepper lengthwise into thin strips. Add to the bowl. In separate bowl, whisk together oil, vinegar, salt and pepper; blend well. Serve immediately over lettuce shreds. Serves 1.

Each serving contains 610 calories, 7g protein, 55g fat, 25g carb, 337mg sodium, 0mg cholesterol. From IChef.

QUICK SPINACH SALAD WITH SPROUTS

1 pound spinach

1/2 cup alfalfa sprouts

1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled

2 tablespoons sunflower seeds

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons water

1 small garlic clove, minced

1 teaspoon dijon mustard

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Thoroughly wash and pat dry spinach leaves; break into bite-size pieces and place in large bowl. Add alfalfa sprouts, feta and sunflower seeds. Prepare vinaigrette in separate bowl: Combine olive oil, lemon juice, water, garlic, mustard and salt and pepper. Pour over ingredients in large bowl; toss. Serves 6.

Each serving contains 121 calories, 10g protein, 8g fat, 5g carb, 273mg sodium, 9mg cholesterol. From Morten's Recipe Collection.