There is a wide array of beautiful salad “greens” available in the market today, and they extend beyond the typical green hue. These greens come in various colors, ranging from green to purple, yellow, and red, offering flavors from mild to piquant. The diversity of salad greens is so extensive that head lettuce, once a salad staple, now represents just the tip of the iceberg!
The resurgence of salads in North American diets has ushered in a “Green Renaissance.” Salad greens boast extremely low calorie content (around 7-10 calories per cup), with varying amounts of essential vitamins A, C, iron, and calcium, coupled with generous fiber content.
- 1 Storage & Prep
- 2 Varieties
- 2.1 Arugula
- 2.2 Belgian Endive
- 2.3 Bibb or Boston Lettuce (also called Limestone)
- 2.4 Chicory
- 2.5 Chinese Cabbage
- 2.6 Collard Greens
- 2.7 Escarole
- 2.8 Fiddlehead Ferns
- 2.9 Green-leaf Lettuce
- 2.10 Kale
- 2.11 Mache
- 2.12 Mustard Greens
- 2.13 Radicchio
- 2.14 Rapini or Broccoli Raab
- 2.15 Red and Green Cabbage
- 2.16 Red Leaf Lettuce
- 2.17 Romaine
- 2.18 Shanghai Bokchoy
- 2.19 Sorrel
- 2.20 Spinach (baby)
- 2.21 Swiss Chard
- 2.22 Watercress
- 3 Mesclun Salad with Aged Goat Cheese Dressing
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 towards “greening” and sustainability, many chefs are cultivating their own vegetables and herbs or collaborating with local suppliers, thereby reducing the distance from “farm to table.”
To maintain freshness, avoid separating lettuce leaves from the head until ready to serve. Store loosely wrapped in plastic in the refrigerator crisper section for up to one week. Do not store lettuce next to apples, melons, or pears, as these fruits emit ethylene gases that can cause browning of lettuce.
For leaf lettuce, tear leaves from the 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, as knives can induce browning on the cut edges. One pound of torn lettuce averages ten cups, and a serving is approximately two cups.
Resembling miniature dandelion greens, arugula leaves are deep green, slender, and undulating in shape. Also known as Rocket, arugula has a peppery flavor that complements 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, offering a somewhat bitter flavor. It can be served raw or braised as a vegetable, with minimal waste and vibrant colors for salads, garnishes, 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 an attractive 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, with leaves that curl inward. Chinese cabbage can be eaten raw in salads or slaws, and it is 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 the desired size. Collard greens can be cooked slowly or quickly, preserving their high vitamin C content. They are available from 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 for about 5 minutes. Serve with lemon butter or raspberry vinaigrette.
This is a frilly-edged green leafy variety commonly used by restaurants in place of iceberg lettuce. It offers a very mild, fresh flavor and is a 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 and is popular in the southern states, often cooked with bacon drippings, onion, and vinegar. Kale can be prepared similarly to 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, mustard greens are the strongest of the bitter greens. Remove the stems, mix with Swiss chard and Bibb lettuce, and top with warm sweet dressing. Do not cook mustard greens in aluminum or iron pans. They are available from 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, while 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, with its peak season from fall to spring.
Red and Green Cabbage
With more vitamin C than green cabbage, just 3 oz of red cabbage provides nearly 100% of the recommended daily allowance. 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. It is 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 Caesar salads or braised as a vegetable.
A fancy name for baby bokchoy, Shanghai bokchoy is milder and sweeter than 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 pureed.
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, sauté 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 for 2 – 4 days. The 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 bruising. 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. (3-4 oz. per serving)
Aged Goat Cheese Dressing
(yield 1 quart)
- Safflower oil 24 oz.
- Rice wine vinegar 8 oz.
- Granny Smith apples peeled, cored, and chopped 10 oz.
- Curry powder 2 Tbsp.
- Shallots minced 4
- Salt and pepper To taste
- Goat cheese 1 Log
- Sesame and poppy seeds As needed
- Roasted red pepper stripes As needed
- Toasted almonds, sliced As needed
Combine all the ingredients for the dressing; mix well in a blender.
Select assorted baby greens. Wash and spin dry. Combine the greens with approximately 1 oz of dressing per person. Place on salad plates.
Garnish: Dip one slice of goat cheese in sesame seeds and one slice in poppy seeds, and leave one slice plain; place them on the salad. Add the roasted peppers and toasted almonds.