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Turn Over A New Leaf

Whoever thought to serve salad before lunch or dinner was really on to something. After all, recent research indicates that first eating a lower-calorie salad (about 100 calories) can reduce the total number of calories consumed at a meal.

But for today's sophisticated tastes, a bowl of limp lettuce mixed with shredded carrots, drowning in fatty dressing, just won't do: That sort of salad is as bad for your waistline as it is for your palate. Using the freshest ingredients from around the world, we've put together four easy-to-make salads providing a delectable balance of flavors, aromas and colors for summer. All are loaded with fiber, nutrients and disease-fighting antioxidants, and their zippy dressings and vinaigrettes are light on calories and fat. Even the exciting little extras -- crispy tortilla strips and croutons, herbs, flowers and more -- are great for your bottom line, marrying perfectly with the refreshing flavors in your salad bowl.

So, try the tips and techniques we offer for inspiration, with these terrific recipes or your own creations. But be forewarned: The salads here are so delicious, you just might forget about the main course.

There are so many exciting and widely available varieties of salad greens today that it's time to give iceberg lettuce (a nutritional zero) the heave-ho. Here are more flavorful (and often more healthful) options.

Arugula Known for their sharp, peppery flavor, these bright-green leaves -- which offer calcium and iron -- are at their best for just a few days after purchase.

Butterhead lettuce A small, delicate lettuce with a sweet and mild flavor and a good amount of folate. Handle the tender leaves gently when rinsing.

Frisée Also called curly endive, frisée has a mildly bitter flavor; its crisp leaves can be enjoyed either raw in a salad or sautéed just until they begin to wilt, and then served as a side dish.

Lollo rosso This heavily ruffled red-leaf lettuce is mildly flavored, with a light, crunchy texture. Its loose leaves are easy to wash and tear and add deep color to your salad bowl.

Mâche A hardy vegetable with blue-green leaves that provides nutty flavor and a chewy texture when chopped or shredded raw into salads. It also can be steamed and served as a side dish.

Mesclun From the Provençal word for "mixture," mesclun (MEHS-kluhn) indicates a salad consisting of a mixture of young, tender greens. Packages of prewashed mesclun may include butterhead lettuce, chicory, red romaine and frisée.

Mizuna Cultivated in Japan, these bright-green leaves have a mild mustardlike flavor. Try them in salads and on sandwiches.

Romaine Next to iceberg, this is probably the most popular green in the bunch. Its crisp and succulent leaves are very mild in flavor and add a nice crunch to salads -- as well as vitamin C, folate and some iron. Romaine is the signature green of Caesar salads.

Spinach Oft-forgotten in its uncooked state, this versatile veggie adds a slightly bitter flavor, along with calcium, iron and magnesium.

Watercress This plant grows wild throughout Europe and America, but what comes to market is cultivated. Watercress is prized for its peppery flavor, which is equally delicious in soups and salads. It is a good source of potassium and vitamin A.

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