May is a month of brilliant color, bursting out from all sides, appearing on bushes, in fields and, of course, in our window boxes and gardens. Have you ever thought of the benefits of feeding yourself with color?
We know that color can brighten our spirits, but what about our bodies and minds? Did you ever stop to consider how tomatoes would taste if they were black? Or how peas would taste if they were purple or spinach if it was pink?
No matter the color, if we eat the spectrum of the rainbow on any given day, we are sure to have touched on the major vitamins and minerals required for the vibrant functioning of our minds and bodies.
For example, scientific research has shown that red foods can help fight cancer, reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease, and improve skin quality. Orange-yellow foods have been shown to improve immune function, reduce the risk of heart disease and promote healthy vision. Green foods can reportedly boost the immune system, help detoxify the body, and restore energy and vitality. Blue and purple foods are known to fight cancer and inflammation and help keep you feeling young. White foods, while not technically part of the rainbow spectrum, can help keep bones strong, lower cholesterol and balance hormones.
Color is important not only in the foods we eat but in the fabrics and accessories we choose to wear (consider how different you feel if you don a flagrant red, a gentle blue or a vibrant yellow) and the colors of the rooms we inhabit (is your living room rust red? Ivory? Yellow ochre? Olive green?). Likewise, the quality of light affects us, both inside our living space and outside as the weather changes and daylight hours lengthen or shorten.
Variety is ever, as the old adage says, the spice of life. On our plates, this can mean variety of textures, food groups, temperatures, spiciness, unctuosity, sweet versus savory and, of course, color.
Spring is the time for salads of all sorts: simple green salads of individual lettuce varieties, grated carrot salads, potato salads, fruit salads, rice salads, pasta salads and mixed salads. Whatever is at your fingertips can be made into a refreshing plate for one, two or a family.
As we move through May, make sure to check out your local farmers markets and pick up a colorful basketful of goodness, including a fistful of herbs. Ingredients to look for this time of year in Western North Carolina include fennel, thyme, oregano, rosemary, mint, borage, tarragon, chervil, parsley, sage, sorrel, asparagus, scallions, buttercrunch lettuce, bok choy, rhubarb, strawberries and cherries.
The most basic and pleasing of all the salads that I keep in my arsenal is one of simple mixed greens. You can augment this in any way you like, adding pomegranate seeds for a bright spot of red and their explode-in-the-mouth quality, or a cheese of your choice (Parmesan, feta, goat and blue are all good choices), nuts and seeds for crunch (pine nuts, walnuts, pecans, sunflower or pumpkin seeds) or tomatoes — once they’re in season — for their juiciness.
As a 20-year resident of the French hexagon, I favor the exclusivity of greens, which are traditionally served as a palate-cleanser between the main course and the cheese or dessert course. Mixed salads are usually heftier and are served at the beginning of the meal as a first course.
A proper French household never stores salad dressing in the refrigerator. Instead, a simple vinaigrette is prepared each time a salad is served, either in the bottom of the bowl before introducing the leaves of lettuce, or (my preference for speed and simplicity) drizzled directly on the leaves and tossed at the table.
If employing the latter method, be sure to start with the vinegar and salt, tossing the leaves with these before adding oil and other elements. This way the salinity and the astringency of the vinegar will enter the leaves and pervade the essence of the salad before oil coats the leaves for easy passage through your system. If you begin with oil, the vinegar and other ingredients will simply slide off the leaves, remaining in the bottom of the bowl.
Chef, musician and author Susi Gott Séguret orchestrates a variety of culinary experiences, including her flagship Seasonal School of Culinary Arts, with sessions in Asheville, Ithaca, N.Y., Sonoma, Calif., and Paris. For more information, see schoolofculinaryarts.org.