05/24/2010 05:00 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Real Food Rehab: Salads That Will Blow Your Mind

The farmers' markets are beginning to open everywhere and it's got me very excited about eating again. My body is craving fresh, bright, green flavors. This is a natural rhythm for me: every spring I feel like I'm coming alive again.

For the last two weeks, I've been hauling home bags of spinach, sprouts, microgreens, all kinds of young, tender lettuces, watercress, pea shoots, spring onions, asparagus and radishes. Every day, I've been tossing together a simple salad made with these ingredients. I put very little thought into it, honestly, because I don't have to. I take out whichever greens suit my fancy, throw them in a bowl and gently toss them with my hands -- a little sea salt, fresh ground pepper, great olive oil and vinegar to taste, and I'm done. Or, I might also add some asparagus, radishes and microgreens too. I am eating enough salad for three people in one sitting, it's like I can't get enough -- it's that good.

Today I added some tuna packed in olive oil, capers, lemon zest, chopped Kalamata olives, spring onions and boiled, sliced new potatoes and it was pure heaven.

I feel like I do a lousy job of getting across in a strong, visceral and effective way how mind-blowingly delicious local produce is. There is no way to understand how vastly different that organic spinach or arugula in a plastic clamshell box at the grocery store is, compared to the greens that were just picked and delivered to your local market, until you do yourself a favor and taste them.

At the end of winter, I feel like my senses are deadened. The produce I'm buying at the grocery store tastes like pablum compared to the fresh, juicy and alive flavors at the market.

I am working every Saturday this summer for Tiny Greens at the Green City Market. They're an organic farm in Champaign-Urbana, IL that specializes in microgreens, sprouts, homemade, Japanese-style tofu and wheatgrass. They also sell radishes, spring onions and herbs.

Yesterday, a swell of school groups invaded the market. All afternoon there were kids coming by our stall and gawking at our microgreens, asking questions and taking LOTS of pictures. I realized that local food systems are becoming a part of their curriculum, which is great. Most of them had no idea what our stuff was, but the comments I kept hearing were about how eye-pleasing everything was: "That is so pretty. What is that? I love the colors!" It made my heart happy to answer their questions, give them samples and turn them on to new flavors.

It's no wonder farmers' markets are a revelation for those used to shopping exclusively in grocery stores. They're aesthetically beautiful: the food itself is fresh, visually stunning and abundant. They provide an authentic experience: you're outdoors buying food grown outdoors. That's a no brainer. It feels 'right' and far better than the artificial environments in a grocery store.

They also create community and connection which I believe we are all unconsciously craving right now. There's an essential goodness and trust I feel while shopping at my farmers' market that I don't feel at the grocery store. I'm very skeptical of all the bogus claims on packaged products and rightly so. There's no small print to read at the farmers' market and you are often times locking eyes with the people who grow your food. Closing that gap makes sense to me.

So, taste these things. Have an experience. And by all means scoop up these greens for your salads while you can. Even if you don't cook, you can throw these salads together very easily with little to no time and basic pantry staples.

Be gentle with your bags of lettuces, they will crush and bruise easily. If you notice any moisture on them in the bag, when you get home, take them out, gently wrap them in a paper towel, stick them back in the bag and place them in your crisper drawer. Do not wash them until you are ready to eat them. Call me a heathen but unless the leaves are noticeably gritty with dirt, I don't wash them. When you do wash them, put them in a clean sink full of water or a giant bowl of water and gently toss them about with your hands, then spin them in your salad spinner until they are dry. Dress your salad when you're ready to eat it and not before.

If you're doing a spring cleanse, eating these salads are the best possible way to enjoy it. Trust me. Eating these greens will change your life. And the beautiful thing is, you can never unlearn a learned truth. So once you try them, you will keep coming back for more.

This is excerpted from the blog Real Food Rehab.

copyright 2010 dana joy altman