They add colour and crunch to a salad and are loaded with vitamins and minerals. But there’s more to greens than meets the eye. “Salad leaves should be an important part of your meal because digestive fibres in the greens and vegetables counter constipation and stabilize sugar level in blood,” says Naini Setalvad, Mumbai-based nutritionist and obesity consultant. The good news is, even if you don’t have the space, time or patience to grow these leaves, most are available in markets and stores throughout the year. Shambhu Prasad Simalti, sous chef, Jaypee Vasant Continental, Delhi, says: “Start the meal with a salad rich in greens. It acts as an appetizer, yet can be filling enough if taken on its own as a low-calorie food.
Any variety of lettuce—including the popular iceberg and butterhead, romaine, leaf and stem lettuce—is good for health. Some varieties, however, may taste a little bitter. So if you want something bland, try the tightly packed, cabbage-lookalike iceberg lettuce. A common rule of thumb is to store bitter lettuce varieties for a few days to cut some of the sharpness. Experts suggest chopping off the tips since that’s where the leaves tend to be most bitter.
Pairs best with: Most salad ingredient such as tomatoes, chicken, tofu and cheese, seeds such as melon seeds, vegetables and chopped fruit.
Health-wise: It provides vitamins A, C, E and K and is rich in iron too. Providing 1.1g dietary fibre for every 100g, lettuce helps you digest food and is recommended for those with constipation. The beta carotene it contains is good for the heart and helps fights cancer. The high folic acid content makes it a favourite dietary recommendation for pregnant women, especially during the first few months, and helps fight anaemia. Sonia Kakar, specialist, public health nutrition, and country director, Project HOPE-International, an NGO, says, “Those suffering from gastritis, gout, irritable bowel syndrome, obesity, stress, ulcers and urinary tract diseases might benefit from the regular consumption of lettuce.”
Growth chart: It grows well in cooler climates and is relatively easy to grow from seeds or seedlings.
Make your salad: Lettuce with walnuts, apples, grapes and Parmesan
2 tbsp balsamic vinaigrette
1/2 cup toasted walnuts
50g grapes of colour of your choice
For the balsamic vinaigrette
50ml red wine vinegar
50ml balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp mustard paste
150ml olive oil, or salad oil
1/2 tsp crushed pepper
1 tbsp mixed herbs (such as basil, oregano, marjoram, rosemary, thyme, parsley, etc.)
Put all the ingredients in a bowl and whisk till oil and vinegar emulsify. Since this dressing has vinegar, it can be kept in the fridge for up to a month.
Clean and thoroughly dry the lettuce leaves and toss with one serving spoon of the vinaigrette. Arrange on a chilled plate and top with apple slices, grapes, walnuts and Parmesan.
- Recipe by Shambhu Prasad Simalti, sous chef, Jaypee Vasant Continental, New Delhi
It is also known as Swiss chard, perpetual spinach, spinach beet, silverbeet or mangold. Chard leaves are colourful, have a slightly bitter edge and the older, tougher leaves can be cooked as you would cook spinach.
Pairs best with: Spices such as nutmeg, cumin seeds, and herbs such as basil. Among vegetables, onions, boiled potatoes and tomatoes team up well with chard.
Health-wise: Chard is high in vitamins A, C and K and a great source of dietary fibre. “About 175g of chard gives you 716% of your daily requirement of vitamin K, 214% of your daily requirement of vitamin A and about half your requirement of vitamin C, which is good for hair, eyes and skin. Dietary fibre helps digest all food, cleaning the digestive tract,” explains Setalvad.
Growth chart: Chard grows easily. Its seeds can be sown a little earlier than spinach, towards the end of the monsoon, since it thrives in direct sunlight.
Make your salad:Chard salad with garlic yogurt
1 red bell pepper, medium
2 pounds (approx. 900g) Swiss chard, leaves only, finely chopped
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
5 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 cup plain yogurt (whole milk)
!/4cup tahini (room temperature)
3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/4tsp red pepper, crushed
1 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
Kosher salt (‘sendha namak’) to taste
Roast the red bell pepper over a gas flame, until charred. Transfer to a bowl, cover and let steam for 10 minutes. Peel and deseed the pepper, then cut into quarter-inch dices.
Put the chard in a colander, sprinkle a tablespoon of salt and rub it into the leaves. Let stand for a minute, then rinse and squeeze dry. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet. Add two of the minced garlic cloves and cook over moderate heat until fragrant. Add the chard and cook, stirring until tender. Add the roasted bell pepper and cook for a minute. Transfer to a platter. In a bowl, mix yogurt with tahini, lemon juice and the remaining garlic. Season with salt. Spoon the yogurt sauce over the cooled Swiss chard. In a small skillet, heat the remaining olive oil. Add the crushed red pepper and cook over moderately high heat until it begins to sizzle (about 10 seconds). Pour the pepper oil over the yogurt sauce. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve.
- Recipe by Arun Maschatak, executive chef, Kenilworth Beach Resort and Spa, Goa.
WATERCRESS (NASTURTIUM OFFICINALE)
This one’s straight out of pucca British tradition. What’s a dainty afternoon tea without watercress sandwiches? Watercress, commonly known in India as ‘jal kumbhi’, is available throughout the year. It is just as popular in salads as in soups or juice. The leaves have a distinctive sharp, peppery taste and are best avoided once the plant starts flowering since they can taste bitter.
Pairs well with:It goes brilliantly with fish such as mackerel, and cucumber.
Health-wise:Watercress is a rich source of iron, folic acid and vitamins A, B, C and E, calcium, iron, copper and manganese. A study released on 14 September by the University of Southampton, UK, found that watercress may slow the development of breast cancer. High in iodine, watercress is good for thyroid and hypothyroidism. All this, says Dr Kakar, makes it high in anti-cancer properties, stabilizes blood pressure and brings down cholesterol. If you include watercress in your diet fairly regularly, it may improve memory and keep ageing issues at bay. “Watercress is low in calories and high in potassium. So it is good for weight loss, as it draws excess fluid out of the body,” adds Dr Kakar.
Growth chart:Watercress can be grown from seeds and thrives in water and swampy places or in pots placed in shallow, water-filled trays.
Make your salad:Watercress and avocado salad
1 bunch of watercress
For the dressing
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp olive oil
Kosher salt to taste
2 cloves of garlic
!/2 tsp dijon mustard
1 tsp sugar powder
Wash and pluck the watercress leaves. Set aside. Combine all the ingredients for the dressing in a bowl. Peel and slice thin the avocado and separate segments of the orange. Put watercress, avocado and orange segments in a mixing bowl. Drizzle the dressing.
- Recipe by Tarun Kapoor, executive chef, The Metropolitan Hotel, New Delhi
The peppery roquette/rocket leaf tastes a little like its cousin, the radish. Like most leaves used in a salad, it offers your digestive system the necessary roughage and is believed to keep some cancers at bay.
Versatile: The peppery rocket pairs well with meat, fish, berries, tomatoes and cheese.
Pairs best with:If you tire of eating rocket as a salad, pair it with fish or cheese. Rocket or arugula, referred to as ‘tara mira’ in Hindi, can be served with pizzas or cooked in a pasta.
Health-wise: Setalvad says rocket leaves are incredibly low in calories—20g has only five calories. Generous amounts of vitamins A and C make it excellent for hair, skin and eyes, even as they protect you from cancer (roughage protects from colon cancer). Rocket leaves are known to improve the overall quality of blood.
Growth chart:Rocket leaves are ready to be eaten in less than two months and the more you nip off your plant, the more new leaves will grow. Though these leaves are not too difficult to grow, you are advised not to let them remain in your garden till they seed because they spread fast and far. You’ll find the plant difficult to get rid of from places where you don’t want it.
Make your salad:Mille feuille of rocket leaf, de Chèvre brûlée, pickled cherries, white balsamic glaze
60g baby rocket leaves
40g de Chèvre (goat cheese)
6 black cherries
4 spears of white asparagus
5 cherry tomatoes
25ml white balsamic
or wine vinegar
5g dijon mustard
1 sheet of filo pastry
Salt and pepper to taste
Wash the leaves. Pickle the black cherries in white balsamic/wine vinegar, and salt for about an hour. Cut the white asparagus spears lengthwise and blanch in boiling water for 20 seconds. Skin the cherry tomatoes and marinate in canola oil, salt and pepper. Brush pre-cut filo pastry with canola oil and bake at 180 degrees Celsius till golden (for about 9 minutes). Make a dressing using balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper, canola oil and dijon mustard. Gratinate de Chèvre using a flame torch. Place on a plate and sprinkle crushed black pepper.
-Recipe by Nilesh Dey, sous chef, The Taj Mahal Hotel, New Delhi