There’s a galaxy of beautiful salad “greens” on the market today but they’re not just green. They range in color from green to purple, yellow, and red, and have flavors from mild to piquant. So many salad green varieties abound, that head lettuce, once a salad staple, is now just the tip of the iceberg!
The resurgence of salads in North American diets has brought on a “Green Renaissance.” Salad greens are extremely low in calories (about 7-10 calories per cup), contain vitamins A, C, iron and calcium in varying amounts, and are generous in fiber content.
Storage & Prep
Lettuce has grown wild since early Roman times, however, it wasn’t until the advent of refrigerated trucks and trains that lettuce could be commercially grown and made available year-round. Today, with the growing trends to “greening” and sustainability, many chefs are growing their own vegetables and herbs or working with local suppliers, thereby shortening the distance from “farm to table.”
To preserve freshness, do not separate lettuce leaves from the head until ready to prepare for serving. Store loosely wrapped in plastic in the refrigerator crisper section for up to one week. Do not store lettuce adjacent to apples, melons or pears. These fruits give off ethylene gases which can cause browning of lettuce.
For leaf lettuce, tear leaves from core. For sorrel watercress and mache, cut off the bottom inch and separate the leaves. Wash leaves thoroughly, dry on paper towels or use a salad spinner. Tear, never cut lettuce for salads since knives cause browning on the cut edges. One pound of torn lettuce averages ten cups. A serving is approximately two cups.
Like miniature dandelion greens, arrugala leaves are deep green, slender and undulating in shape. Also called Rocket, arrugala has a peppery flavor that mixes well with milder greens.
Originally from Belgium, endive comes in tightly packed cone-shaped heads. The leaves are silvery-white with pale yellow-green tips about 3 - 4 inches long and 1 - 2 inches wide and have a somewhat bitter flavor. It can be served raw or braised as a vegetable. There is very little waste and it is very colorful for salads, garnish or appetizers.
Bibb or Boston Lettuce (also called Limestone)
Bibb lettuce is a small head lettuce with delicate rounded leaves that are bright green at the edges and yellow at the base.
A type of frilly endive, chicory has elongated, curly-edged leaves attached to a stem. This green has a pleasantly bitter flavor and makes a pretty garnish.
The two most commonly available Chinese cabbages in North America have two distinct forms: one is dark-green, long and narrow with leaf tips fanning outward; the other is apple-green, shorter and thicker and has leaves that curl inward. Chinese cabbage can be eaten raw in salads or slaws. It is also excellent cooked in soups or stir-fries.
Traditionally found on the menu in the southern U.S., collard greens are boiled with salt pork or ham hocks. The ribs are too tough to eat, so they should be stripped from the leaves. Stack leaves in a pile and chop to desired size. Collard greens can be cooked long and slowly, or quickly like spinach to preserve the high vitamin C content. Available December through April.
A hardy variety of leaf lettuce with graceful elongated leaves that are somewhat irregular. The flavor is robust with a pleasant bite.
There is no such plant as the fiddlehead fern. The term “fiddlehead” refers to a stage in the life of all ferns when they poke up through the soil, but have not yet uncurled. Fiddlehead ferns are prized for their delicate flavor. Look for jade-green, tightly curled fiddleheads about 1 1/2 inches with tails no more than 2 inches in length. Use immediately. Blanch in salted water about 5 minutes. Serve with lemon butter or raspberry vinaigrette.
This is a frilly edged green leafy variety, that is commonly used by restaurants in place of iceberg lettuce, very mild fresh flavor, multipurpose lettuce.
With blue-green leaves and a thick center stem, kale is rich in vitamins A, B complex, C, iron and calcium. It tastes like mild cabbage. Kale, cooked with bacon drippings, onion and vinegar, is very popular in the southern states. It can also be prepared the same way as spinach, and is excellent for stir-frying. Remove the ribs. Kale is available year round.
Also called corn salad or lambs lettuce, this gourmet variety has long stems ending in delicate teardrop-shaped green leaves. The flavor is mild and nutty.
Sharply pungent, they are the strongest of the bitter greens. Remove the stems, mix with Swiss chard and bibb lettuce, top with warm sweet dressing. Do not cook mustard greens in aluminum or iron-pans. Available December through March.
An Italian import, radicchio comes in small, tightly packed round heads. The leaves are a beautiful red-violet to purple color with a white streaked base. It has a pungent, spicy flavor that is slightly bitter.
Rapini or Broccoli Raab
The Chinese and Italians revere rapini for its bitterness. The Italians fry, braise and steam rapini; the Chinese add it to their soups. Rapini is related to both the cabbage and turnip families and is a good source of vitamins A,C and K as well as potassium. Rapini is available year round, but its peak season is from fall to spring.
Red and Green Cabbage
With more vitamin C than green, just 3 oz of red cabbage provides nearly 100% of RDA. It is also one of the super healthy cruciferous vegetables. Excellent in slaws and salads, cabbage can also be braised, steamed, stuffed, or made into sauerkraut. Available year round.
Red Leaf Lettuce
A variety of leaf lettuce that is as versatile as the green. It has a mild flavor.
A foot-long head of deep green oval leaves with paler white-yellow leaves in the center, romaine is sweet and mild tasting. Generally used in Ceasar salads or braised as a vegetable.
A fancy name for baby bokchoy. Shanghai bokchoy is milder and sweeter than the mature bokchoy. A member of the cabbage family, it has a light, fresh mustard flavor and requires very little cooking.
Lemon tasting with long stemmed leaves like spinach, sorrel has a more pronounced flavor. Steam it or use it like spinach.
There is little waste in baby spinach - both the deep-green pointed leaves and stems are used. Mildly robust in flavor, baby spinach is excellent raw, wilted or purreed.
It’s like having two vegetables for the price of one. The ivory stalks can be cooked like asparagus and the dark leaves can be steamed or stir-fried. Cut stalks into thick slices, sautee in olive oil, cook for 15 min., or until tender. Add strips of chard leaves, cook over medium heat until wilted. Sprinkle with lemon juice, golden raisins and pine nuts. Raw chard will dominate a dish so use sparingly. Swiss chard is highly perishable; keep stalks and leaves separate wrapped in plastic and refrigerate 2 - 4 days. Peak season is June through October.
A peppery green with a bite, it grows wild in and alongside running water, hence the name. Watercress is a member of the mustard family. It has small, crisp dark-green leaves and fragile stems. Watercress is sold in bunches. Look for fresh green leaves; do not buy, if there is any yellowing, wilting or if they are bruised. The dime-sized leaves and edible stems make it perfect for sandwiches, soups and salads. It is delicious in scrambled eggs, and often used as a garnish for grilled meats.Watercress that comes to market here is cultivated and available year round.
Mesclun Salad with Aged Goat Cheese Dressing
Choose assorted small, young salad leaves from the varieties in this feature to create your own signature mesclun salad.
(3-4oz. per serving)