The advent of bagged and boxed salad greens brought leafy variety to the average cook. No one buys ten kinds of lettuce to make a salad, but the typical bag of baby greens offers verdant diversity in user-friendly quantities. The downside of bagged spring mix is the all too human tendency to rely on its convenience and in the process forget options that require an extra minute or two of hands-on attention.
Among the greens less eaten are three that have made their way into my dinner with increasing frequency: pea shoots, watercress, and flat leaf parsley.
Pea Shoots (from Trader Joe's) are crisp and crunchy. They have almost nothing in common with stringy, earthy-flavored alfalfa sprouts. Pea shoots flavor is is reminiscent of peas, or more precisely, like something that will eventually become a pea. There's a particular sensation on the tongue that accompanies fresh peas - a soft fuzzy graininess - that the shoots also impart. They're a worthy stand-alone salad green. When tossed with diced tomatoes and smoked salmon - and a splash of oil and vinegar - pea shoots become the foundation for a great main course salad.
Watercress increasingly shows up on lists of purported super foods. If you haven't tasted watercress, it's similar to arugula in its peppery taste and slight coarseness. I like to roughly chop watercress, stems and all, but if you don't appreciate the texture you can pull the leaves off to make your salad. Watercress combos can include 1) thin slices of pear and radish, and some fresh dill, and 2) blood oranges and heirloom tomatoes. Toss either combination with a citrus vinaigrette - or your favorite oil and vinegar dressing.
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Last but not least among my three greens is parsley. Flat leaf (aka Italian) parsley is another purported super food that is seemingly forgotten outside of Mediterranean cuisines with tabouli recipes. If I had to pick one food that embodies what I think green tastes like, I'd choose parsley. On its own parsley can be overwhelming. When chopped and tossed with rice noodles, red bell pepper, slivered dried apricots, and a little onion it's the ingredient that gives texture and a flavor kick-start to a simple rice pasta salad.
Sometimes salad variety comes in a bag, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. But day after day that bag can get pretty boring. If you want something different the produce aisle has a bounty of green options ready for your dinner tonight.
Andy Broder is the chef/owner of AndyFood, A Culinary Studio.