Spring Greens in Unexpected Places

When you visualize a garden, you probably think of carrots planted in straight rows, lettuce marching in step, and rectangular planting beds keeping everything in order.

Gardens don't have to look like that—mine definitely does not! I stick vegetables and herbs into unexpected places all over my yard.

Lettuce in Colander

If you don't have space for a full, regimented garden, tuck vegetables like spinach and cherry tomatoes into pots on a deck, your front porch or a windowsill. Try the fun yellow pear tomatoes, or orange ones.

Pick up a few starts at your grocery store. Growing a small crop is easy, fun and tasty.

Save a corner of the garden for some lettuce. It doesn't need much care and it's pretty. Try planting a bright, electric green leafy type next to a beautiful bronze red variety. Homegrown lettuce is tender and flavorful, not like tough store-bought lettuce that has had to survive a long truck ride and sitting at the store several days before you buy it.

Use your lettuce harvest as a healthy package for the low-salt wraps below. You will never buy lettuce in the spring or summer again!

A trick in this recipe is to cut down on the soy sauce, and use pineapple juice to add a sweet and sour taste to pump the flavor. Less soy sauce means less sodium, and that's better for your heart, blood vessels and kidneys.

Spring Lettuce Wraps

1 teaspoon low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon pineapple juice
1 egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 chicken breast, microwaved and diced
1 pork chop, microwaved and diced
1 small onion, diced
4 mushrooms, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
8 water chestnuts, diced
1/2 cup green peas
1/4 pound rice noodles (py mei fun)
Oil for deep-frying rice noodles
20 large leaf lettuce leaves

Thickening

1 tablespoon water or pineapple juice
1 teaspoon low-sodium soy sauce
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon sherry or rice wine

Mix soy sauce, pineapple juice, egg yolk, sugar, sesame oil, black pepper and cornstarch. Add steamed chicken and pork and marinate for about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, break apart rice noodles and deep fry a small amount at a time in half inch of oil or less, at about 350 to 360 degrees. Noodles will fry within seconds and will be white and crisp when done. Drain and arrange on large platter.

Mix thickening in small bowl.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil until hot. Sauté meat mixture two to four minutes. Remove from pan, place on a second platter. In same pan, add onions, mushrooms, celery, water chestnuts and peas, stir-fry two to three minutes until celery is bright green.

Serve with lettuce leaves. Let guests add filling and noodles, wrapping in leaves.

Makes about 20 wraps, which feeds 3–5 people.

You can freeze extra filling or serve it for another meal over rice or in corn tortillas, which are much lower in salt than flour tortillas.

Nutritional information (per serving, 2 wraps)

Calories: 168, Carbohydrates: 17 grams, Protein: 13 grams, Fat: 5 grams, Sodium: 70 milligrams

Note: The recipes in this column are meant for people who want to keep their kidneys healthy and blood pressure down by following a low-sodium diet. In most cases, except for dialysis patients, a diet high in potassium is thought to help lower high blood pressure. These recipes are not intended for people on dialysis without the supervision of a registered dietitian.

Author Katy G. Wilkens is a registered dietitian and department head at Northwest Kidney Centers. She has a Master of Science degree in nutritional sciences from the University of Washington. See more of her recipes at www.nwkidney.org.