Less familiar baby greens are great for starting holiday meal

EATING WELL

November 17, 1992|By Colleen Pierr R.D. | Colleen Pierr R.D.,Contributing Writer

Want to get your Thanksgiving dinner off to an elegant and nutritious start?

Begin with a colorful salad of baby greens. I realize this exceeds the bounds of the strictly traditional, but think of the advantages.

Everyone comes to the table starving, increasing the probability they'll try something new. The fiber is a good filler, so, hopefully, folks won't eat quite so much of the higher-fat foods. And these leafy greens and reds are high in vitamin C, beta carotenes and calcium, likely to be in short supply in the rest of the meal.

The mix currently available from Sutton Place Gourmet and Eddie's of Roland Park is known as mesclun, mescaline or spring mix and usually contains a variety of 10 tiny leaves. It is organically grown and pesticide-free, says Francisco Miguel, produce manager at Sutton Place Gourmet.

Typically, the mix comprises tender, delicately flavored baby leaves of arugula, radicchio, frisee, tat soy, red and green oak leaf, red romaine, red mustard, dandelion and mache.

Flavors range from sweetly nutty mache, through peppery arugula, a member of the radish family. The wide taste variety allows a sampling, without a major commitment.

Baby-leaf salad delights the eye as well as the palate. Colors range from pale, white-green through medium to dark green, from red through burgundy, and even to amber.

Shapes vary from thin, scraggly frisee through leaves that are round, spoon-shaped, cuplike, elongated or shaped like little oak leaves.

Baby-leaf salad is not as expensive as it first appears. Although the price per pound is high compared to standard salad bars, the leaves are light and airy and weigh very little. There are no heavy stems or heavy vegetables like cucumbers. In addition, the leaves are kept very dry, so you don't pay for a lot of water.

Dress this salad with a light vinaigrette of heart-healthy olive oil, vinegar and shallots. If you make the dressing ahead of time, keep it chilled, and dispose of leftovers to prevent any chance of botulism poisoning. Or you can mix the oil and vinegar but add the shallots to the salad.

If your gang isn't quite ready for such a complete salad experiment, just introduce a few new leaves into your family's typical salad. Many grocery stores, including Safeway and Giant, carry some of these more exotic lettuces.

I especially like the idea of an "autumn leaves" salad for Thanksgiving, combining red and green oak-leaf lettuce with more traditional iceberg or romaine.

Sutton Place has oak-leaf lettuce available separate from the mix, but Mr. Miguel keeps it in cold storage, due to its delicacy. So ask if you don't see it. Eddie's will order it for you.

Mr. Miguel suggests garnishing the turkey platter with a colorful frisee-radicchio combination. If you don't start the meal with a salad, add a bit of this garnish to each dinner plate.

Colleen Pierre, a registered dietitian, is the nutrition consultant to the Union Memorial Sports Medicine Center in Baltimore.

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