Lettuce and other Salad Greens
Here are some of the types of lettuce and
greens available for your salad creations.
Arugula (rocket or roquette) is a dark green, deeply lobed leaf of
Mediterranean extraction that has a delightful almost peppery flavor.
Avoid the large leaves, which can be tough and bitter. It is expensive,
but combined with other greens; a little goes a long way.
Bibb (limestone or butterhead) is an American development. Its crinkly,
soft but not limp leaves are wonderful tossed with oil and vinegar or
mixed with more robust greens. I like to use them in sandwiches for an
unctuous, buttery taste, but only for sandwiches made just before
serving. I think this is wonderful for Vietnamese dishes that combine
meat or shrimp, fish sauce, and fresh mint, all wrapped in crisp,
freshly washed lettuce leaves.
Boston lettuce has very tender, light green, buttery leaves that wilt
quickly once they have been dressed. In France, a similar type (laitue)
is often served by itself, tossed at the last minute with mustard
Chicory (curly endive, frisee) is a frizzy leaved relative of Belgian
endive with a similar bitter edge. The more bitter, dark green outer
leaves are delicious if served with a hot vinegar dressing, topped with
fried, crumbled bacon and hard-cooked or poached eggs. Toss the more
delicate yellow to white inner leaves with a mixture of other salad
Escarole (also called chicory) is less bitter than curly or Belgian
endive. The deep green outer leaves can be sliced and tossed with
robust dressings or added to soups, beans or pasta fro extra flavor.
The lighter inner leaves are delicious in any kind of salads.
Iceberg (crisp head) is the ultra-crisp compact head that is often
denigrated by "serious" cooks. I think its mild flavor and decisive
crunch make it wonderful for sandwiches; old-fashioned wedge salads;
and when shredded, a perfect, sturdy base for composed salads.
Leaf lettuce includes a number of
different kinds of greens (and reds), such as green and red leaf, green and red oak leaf, and other more
esoteric non heading lettuces that local producers may have cultivated.
Of the commercially available leafs, I am most partial to red oak leaf
and red tipped because they have a lovely flavor and make a very
attractive salad, even if mixed with other greens.
Mache (lamb's lettuce, corn salad, feld salat) has tiny, delicate oval
leaves and is usually sold in little sprigs of 4 to 5 leaves. It is
wonderful all by itself, but when it is expensive or in short supply,
it can be combined with other delicate greens. Its nutty, faintly sweet
flavor is enhanced by its unctuous texture.
Radicchio is a red-leaf relative of endive. Its leaves have a thick
white vein and a robust, pleasantly bitter flavor. This is one "green"
that can stand up to highly flavored dressings. It is best when combined
raw with other greens, but also can be grilled or quickly stir-fried.
Romaine (cos) is the original Caesar salad green. If legend has it
right, it first grew on the Greek island of Kos, where it was
supposedly well like for its crunchy texture. I also like its long,
dark and light green leaves shredded and tossed with a hot vinegary
Watercress grows in flooded fields, and its sprigged little leaves have
a wonderful very peppery flavor. It is truly an all-purpose green.
Watercress is great on its own for a robustly flavorful salad. It is
also good mixed with other greens to add a little spice. Try it as the
green in a number of different sandwiches (especially grilled vegetable
on sourdough bread), or cook it for wonderful soups, both hot and cold.
Other greens that can be added to salads include tiny crisp beet
greens, mustard greens, Swiss chard, and if you can find them, very
young dandelion greens.
Many salad greens also have another life
that is frequently overlooked. They can be cooked to add interest to everyday and company meals.
Lettuces and other salad greens are all, for the most part, low in
calories, fat free, and high in carbohydrates. Many contain reasonable
amounts of vitamins A and C as well as calcium and iron.