It’s time to explore healthy greens

Endive leaf boats are filled with artichoke salad. BY JACK CLEMONS
April 20, 2011

Earlier this week the Wellness Community invited me to present a workshop on the subject of Healthy Spring Greens. The weather that day was an ideal match to the topic – bright sunshine, balmy breezes and new patches of grass popping up everywhere. On my way to the class, I stopped at the grocery store in search of ingredients, leaving the menu choices to the whims of Mother Nature (and the produce department supervisor).

I selected a variety of vegetables, based on their nutritional contribution to a cancer-fighting diet: foods full of antioxidants, beta carotene, folate and vitamin C, just to name a few desirable components. I collected asparagus (green, not white, although both were available) from the banded bundles standing in a tray of water, and a lush, fragrant bunch of parsley.

Brown tips on the ends of the artichoke leaves were not problematic, according to the gentleman who pointed them out. He told me the label on the bin that arrived at the store described them as a “frost kissed” variety. Without time to blanche and trim them, I picked up cans of artichoke hearts for the class, keeping the fresh one for my dinner.

Belgian endive, although a bit smaller than you’d find at a European greengrocer, was blemish free in tightly packed heads. The freshest spinach choice from bags and bunches was a clamshell package of organic baby leaves. This would be the starting point for a salad to include Clementine sections and button mushrooms I’d already packed in the market bag.

In keeping with the colorful spring theme, I chose a box of vegetable pasta made with carrots and tomatoes. Bermuda onion, garlic and shallots – members of the allium family – rounded out my shopping list with their potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Now that I had the ingredients, what’s the menu?

In her book “The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen,” Rebecca Katz tells us that food will be tasty if it satisfies four flavor cravings simultaneously: fat, acid, salt and sweet. Remember the taste bud tongue map you were taught in grammar school? It was wrong; each bud on the tongue can identify any of the four basic tastes. You also receive taste information from the entire inner surface of your mouth and other cues from the aromas that reach your nose. Using this logic, making sure each of the four flavor types are delivered in every forkful should result in a very appealing dish.

The menu I assembled that morning seems to have met the goal. Appetizer boats of endive leaves filled with artichoke salad (see photo) were the first course. Olive oil delivered the fat, lime juice brought acidity and sundried tomato offered sweetness. Sea salt played its part and also contributed important trace minerals that are removed from ordinary table salt. An entree of pasta combined three different varieties of peas to offer crunch and hints of sweet flavor to balance the slightly acerbic asparagus. Spinach salad easily conformed to the format with olive oil, vinegar, sea salt and citrus. Turkey bacon added smoky notes to contrast with the sweet, juicy Clementines.

By the end of the morning, all our taste buds were satisfied by the four-flavor blends in these “spring green” dishes and we enjoyed the delicious benefits of a cancer-fighting, heart-healthy menu.

Stuffed Endive
1 head of endive
14-oz can artichoke hearts
8 sun-dried tomato halves
1/4 C minced red onion
2 T chopped parsley
1 minced garlic clove
2 T olive oil
juice of 1 lime
salt and pepper, to taste

Separate the endive leaves; rinse and set aside to drain. Pour the artichoke hearts into a strainer; rinse and drain. If the hearts are whole, cut them into quarters lengthwise and then in half crosswise. Reconstitute if dried, then roughly chop the sun-dried tomatoes. Combine all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and stir to combine. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes for the flavors to blend. To serve, arrange spoonfuls of the artichoke mixture in the endive leaves.

3 Pea Pasta
1 lb spiral pasta
1 lb asparagus spears
1 t olive oil
1 T butter
8 oz sliced mushrooms
1 minced shallot
8 oz snow peas
8 oz sugar snap peas
8 oz baby green peas
1 T balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper, to taste
1/3 C grated Parmesan cheese

Prepare the pasta according to the package directions. While the pasta is boiling, rinse the asparagus and discard the woody ends. Heat the olive oil in a nonstick skillet and sauté the asparagus over medium high until almost starting to brown at the tips, about 8 minutes. Chop the spears into 2-inch pieces; set aside. Melt the butter in a large skillet and sauté the mushrooms until they release their liquid, about 5 minutes. Stir in the shallots and cook until softened. Add the peas and cover; hold on a very low heat until the pasta is ready. Drain the pasta; combine with the vegetables and accumulated pan juices in a large serving bowl. Add the vinegar, adjust the seasonings and garnish with Parmesan cheese.

Spinach Salad
3 T olive oil
1 T white wine vinegar
1 T balsamic vinegar
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 t Dijon mustard
1 lb baby spinach leaves
6 oz sliced mushroom
2 sliced hard-boiled eggs
1/3 red onion, thinly sliced
3 slices cooked bacon, crumbled
3 Clementines, peeled and sectioned
salt and pepper, to taste

Whisk together the olive oil, vinegars, lemon juice and mustard in a serving bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and toss to combine.

The mission of the Wellness Community Delaware is to enhance the health and well-being of people whose lives have been touched by cancer. It provides emotional support, education and hope through a wide range of free programs. Their Sussex County offices are on Route 24,  off Route 1 in Rehoboth Beach.  For information go to