Salads and the different types of lettuce
Salads in all their many shapes and forms seem to play an increasingly large part of the worlds diet.
A salad can be a whole meal, a starter, an accompaniment to the main course, a refresher after it,
or even a dessert. With the abundance of fresh produce available year round and the awareness of the
role of vitamins and healthy eating, more people are enjoying the light, crisp, colorful balance of
flavor that a salad can give.
Salads need not be monotonous. There is such a variety of greens to choose from in our markets;
in addition to the old standby iceburg lettuce, there are leafy heads of Boston, romaine, and some
garden varieties, when in season, as well as greens with sharper flavor, such as spinach, chicory,
watercress, escarole and endive. Mustard greens, arugola, dandelion greens, and others that grow
easily in home gardens are finding their way into many produce markets.
Salads should be tossed lightly just before serving or even at the table. Most greens should be more
or less bite size, torn by hand not chopped.
Vegetables used in salads can be raw or cooked. If raw, they should be young and tender. It is nice
to use some of the skin for color, but don't use the ones with tough skins or that have been waxed.
Cooked vegetables should have a crisp texture and bright color.
Wash greens as soon as you get them home, use very cold water, separate the leaves.(except iceberg)
Avoid wrapping in plastic this creates to much moisture and the greens will turn dank quickly. There
is no exact rule as to how long they will keep, they're usable as long as they seem fresh and
crisp, much depends on how fresh they were when you bought them. It is a good idea to check
and remove any leaves that have turned brown because they can spoil the whole lot.
The amount of dressing on a salad is critical. Too much drenches and wilts the greens and robs
them of taste and texture. Not enough leaves the salad unseasoned and unfinished.
Avoid sweet dressings on most salads that go with a meal. They are fine with a fruit salad at the end
and some people enjoy them with a main course luncheon salad, but be careful not to overwhelm
natural flavors with too much sweetness.
Some lettuces (especially iceberg) have been bred to remove the bitterness from their leaves. These lettuces have a high water content and so have less nutrional value than bitter lettuce with darker leaves. while all lettuces contain antioxidants and vitamin K, romaine and looseleaf contain five to six times the vitamin C and five to ten times the vitamin A of iceberg.
Types of Salad Greens
Iceburg....The all-purpose lettuce that is available year round. The head is large and tight, the leaves
crisp, and it keeps well. Don't separate the leaves before storing. Iceburg has less taste the other
lettuces, so for a salad it is best mixed with other greens and other companions. It is good for
sandwiches and a bed of shredded lettuce holds up well.
Boston or Butter Lettuce...Generally available, this looser head has large, deep green, soft leaves
and a lighter, tender heart with a delicate flavor.
Bibb or Limestone Lettuce...The heads are a little smaller and more pointy than Boston and the leaves are a bit firmer. Some Bibb used to be grown in limestone, hence the alternate name. This is a
prized lettuce for salad.
Leaf Lettuce or Garden Lettuce...Fresh and tasty, the curly leaves of garden lettuce wilt quickly
and should be kept cold and used as soon as possible.
Red-Leaf Lettuce...Loose leaf garden variety with leaves that are tinged with red. Red-Leaf looks
great and tastes lovely in any kind of mixed green salad.
Escarole...A large spready head of longish leaves that splay out at the end with wide ribs at the base,
escarole can be a bit tough on the outside, so some of the mature leaves should be removed and
discarded, the heart is tender.
Chicory...Sometimes known as curly endive, the spike shaped, curly leaves have a pleasing bitter
taste and make for a good blend with milder greens.
Watercress...Deep green, the small flat leaves have a peppery taste that mixes well with other
Belgian Endive...The slender, long leaves from a head of endive offer color, texture and a slightly
bitter taste. It's quite expensive, but a little goes a long way and holds up well.
Spinach...For salad use young tender, very fresh leaves and trim off the stems. Wash well,
Spinach can be very gritty.
Romaine...A long, sometimes quite fat head of crisp leaves that always gives a good crunch
to any salad.
Chinese Lettuce...Generally have long, swordshaped, no head forming leaves, with a bitter robust flavor. use for stir fried dishes and stews.