Spring greens mark the new season

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Happy Vernal Equinox, when we mark nature’s changing of seasons. We welcome spring, when the world sloughs off its cold, crusty mantle and awakens to the new. It’s time to turn over — and eat — a new leaf.

Think tender, sweet spinach; vibrant, earthy kale; frilly, peppery arugula; bright-stemmed chard; astringent dandelion greens — all the glorious green leaves of spring. From cool jade to deep jungly green, they’re more vibrant in color, flavor and nutrients than that pale bowling ball of supermarket iceberg lettuce.

Alas, you don’t care. Greens have suffered the stigma of being healthy — as if that’s a bad thing. If you knew there was a pill that was anti-inflammatory and immunity enhancing, rich in vitamins C and A, iron, calcium, folate and a wealth of antioxidants, you’d pop it at once.

Spring greens have all that plus all kinds of phytochemical majesty and mystery. They also contain fiber, as much, if not more, than the packaged, processed foods that boast of their fiber content. What’s more, the leaves of spring are easy to digest and don’t leave you feeling like the fiber bar you ate on St. Patrick’s Day is still hanging around in your stomach today.

Still not sold?

Don’t let the sheer abundance of spring greens elicit panic. They are so bountiful, so eager to please, and there’s so much of them, you don’t know how to make them behave. Relax. These greens at their most tender and new need very little. They don’t want to cause a fuss. And they would like to stay green. There’s no need to boil them down to a pot of misery: Enjoy the freshness of the season by tossing new leaves with other vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans or whole grains.

Think of spring greens not as healthy (though they are), nor as food to be feared (because they’re not). They’re your golden — and green — opportunity to commune with spring, with tenderness and the fresh, local abundance at your farmers market and in your CSA (community sponsored agriculture) box.

It’s officially spring, so celebrate with all the lovely leafy greens of the season.

Spring Greens Salad With Granny Smith Apples and Fennel

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Tender, sweet spring leaves, tart, crunchy Granny Smith apples and the gently licorice flavor of crisp fennel combine for a significant salad that’s a symphony of textures, delivering the cheering taste of spring in every bite.

⅓ cup walnuts, coarsely chopped

¼ cup olive oil or walnut oil

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

2 tablespoons prepared Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon agave or honey

1 large bulb fresh organic fennel (or 2 small), thinly sliced, long stems and fronds reserved for another use

2 bunches fresh organic spinach, kale, arugula or other tender spring greens torn into bite-sized bits

1 Granny Smith apple or other tart apple, sliced thin

½ teaspoon crushed fennel seeds (optional)

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Pour chopped walnuts in a shallow baking dish and roast for 8 to 10 minutes, until walnuts darken and crisp and smell rich and buttery. Remove the walnuts from the oven and set aside to cool.

Whisk together in a small bowl the olive or walnut oil, apple cider vinegar, mustard and agave or honey.

In a large salad bowl, toss together spinach or other spring greens and thinly sliced fennel. Add half the dressing and toss gently.

Scatter the thin slices of apple and roasted walnuts on top. Drizzle some or all of remaining dressing over all. Toss again.

Sprinkle in fennel seeds (if using) and salt and pepper to taste.

Per serving: 153 calories, 11 g carbohydrates, 12 g fat, 2 g protein, 53 mg sodium, 6 g sugar, 77 percent of calories from fat.)