Mix It Up With Mixed Salad Recipes

Herbs and greens make nutritious summer meals.

| May/June 1998

Mixed Greens Recipes

• Wild Spring Herb and Flower Salad
• Grilled Halibut Salad with Mango and Mint

• Mediterranean Pasta Mesclun with Pesto Dressing
• Strawberry and Asparagus Salad with Tarragon 

Mixed salads are the food rage of the 1990s, with restaurants offering a dizzying array of greens with ­exotic names and produce suppliers ­bagging ready-made salads to sell in ­supermarkets. In fact, the National Garden Bureau proclaimed 1997 the “Year of the Mesclun,” a tribute to the French Provençal tradition of mixing tender young lettuces and other greens into healthy, tastebud-pleasing salads.

Despite the attention to mixed greens, however, a mystique surrounds the art of preparing them at home. But making a variation on the French mesclun is ­remarkably easy, especially given the ­increasingly diverse selection of greens and herbs available from produce ­suppliers.

The traditional European mes­clun draws upon a combination of several mild fresh leaf lettuces, fresh herb tips, young pot herbs, and a variety of wild or strong greens. The French-style mesclun calls upon chervil and mâche (a small, leafy green), an Italian variation calls for basil, and a Thai mesclun draws upon mint and cilantro. You can vary the ingredients to make a mesclun to suit your tastes. A spicy blend, for example, may contain some pungent arugula and watercress or decorative nasturtium flowers and leaves. A bitter blend may contain chicory and radicchio (a red variety of chicory) with a base of mild lettuces and herbs.

A mesclun can serve as a healthy complement to vegetables, grains, cheeses, legumes, fish, or meats. Serve pasta on a bed of fresh greens, for example, or use the greens as a visually appealing, healthy backdrop for steamed, broiled, or grilled foods—just about any food tastes better when combined with the varied flavors of a mesclun.

A Healthy Thread

The variety of salad mixes you can make is limitless, but all mescluns will be bound by a common thread: the health benefits. Fresh greens generally provide vitamin C, beta-carotene, fiber, and folic acid. Some greens—particularly strong-tasting ones such as arugula, watercress, and chicory—contain higher amounts of calcium; arugula, for example, provides 150 mg of calcium per cup. Often, the stronger the flavor and the darker the green, the higher the nutrients. One ­exception is the paler mâche, which is higher in beta-carotene and vitamin C than romaine. (Mâche is quite perishable, though, which is why you’ll have trouble finding it in markets.)

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