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Its so easy eating green
In celebration of Earth Day and feeling green we found two recipes to green up your table, too
0416Green
Add green to your dinner table with Thai Pea Soup. - photo by Ben Fink

Going green for Earth Day can involve recycling or changing some lightbulbs - but why not let Mother Nature inspire more green on your dinner table?

In fact, adding some green to your plate offers health benefits along with adding great spring flavors.

The Culinary Institute of America is honoring Earth Day on Tuesday by choosing fresh, green ingredients like spring lettuces and greens, English peas and asparagus.

"The spring is so brand new," said chef Eve Felder, a 1988 graduate of the Culinary Institute and the associate dean for culinary arts at the school. "There's all the new lettuces ... spring garlic, which also is a really beautiful green, the sugar snaps, the snow peas - the spring garden is really just so vibrant and great."

Chefs at the Culinary Institute suggest two green recipes for the season: Thai Pea Soup and Asparagus with Shiitakes, Bow Tie Pasta and Spring Peas.

"The inspiration was the season of peas," Felder said. "I also think the flavor profile is great because you can use the curry paste to compliment the sweetness of the peas with a little bit of spice or you can really add more spice and make it something that is really tantalizing on your palette.

The Thai Pea Soup, created by Felder, uses big flavors from onions, garlic, green curry paste, toasted mustard seeds, mint - and of course peas - for the dish.

"You can hold back (on the green curry paste); the recipe I think calls for two teaspoons, but if you hold back you can always add it later," she said. "I think that is the thing with spice all the time, a recipe may call for a certain amount but do half of it and see how it is for your palette."

Along with added nutrients, green vegetables add great contrast to presentation according to Scott Dixon, chef and owner of Scott's on the Square in Gainesville.

"It's a great color for contrast on the plate," said Dixon, who will begin serving from a new spring lunch menu at the restaurant this weekend. "There are so many whiteish things on the plate and green is a good complimentary color ... with things like a red or yellow pepper."

But Dixon added that green vegetables need to be cooked appropriately to keep their beautiful color.

"When you overcook they can turn a darker, browner green," he said. "We always blanche and then shock the vegetables we are going to use to keep the color."

The Culinary Institute's asparagus and shiitake recipe is another great addition to the green on the table.

"That is one of our classic recipes here," Felder said. "Asparagus is such a quintessential spring vegetable.

Both (shiitakes and asparagus) are high in umami and it makes for a very rich, vegetarian alternative because you have such high-flavored ingredients."

The recipe calls for three kinds of peas: snow, sugar snap and green peas; along with asparagus, shiitake mushrooms, shallots, scallions and marjoram all mixed in with bowtie pasta.

"Marjarom is a great complement - and should be used lightly - to asparagus and also to green beans," Felder said. "It adds that fresh herb enhancement."

Felder offered a few recipe secrets for those at home to create the green soup.

"You really can use water (instead of vegetable stock) because the vegetables will speak for themselves," Felder said. "Vegetable broth can add more flavor but also you have to be aware of what additional flavor it is adding. I always make vegetable pureed soups with water and use salt as a flavor enhancer."

Also, Felder said to use English peas - not sugar snap peas - for the soup.

"(English peas) are the ones that come in the shell as opposed to the sugar snap peas," she said. "It's really a sad thing that has happened because of the consumer's palette and ease of preparation people have moved more to sugar snap peas rather than English peas.

"English peas take more work but they are such a wonderful, wonderful pea."

Along with the health benefits from peas, which are high in vitamin K, C and fiber; dark green leafy vegetables also add important nutrients to your diet, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research.

Spinach, kale, romaine lettuce, leaf lettuce, mustard greens, collard greens, chicory and Swiss chard are excellent sources of fiber, folate and a wide range of carotenoids such as lutein and zeaxanthin, along with saponins and flavonoids, according to www.aicr.org.

According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, foods containing carotenoids may protect against cancers of the mouth, pharynx and larynx. Researchers also believe that carotenoids may prevent cancer by acting as antioxidants.

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