The "green salad" or "garden salad" is most often composed of leafy vegetables such as lettuce
varieties, spinach, arugula, or escarole. The salad leaves are cut or torn into bite-sized fragments
and tossed together (called a tossed salad), or may be placed in a predetermined arrangement
(called a composed salad).
Of all the greens available for salad making, four are considered types of lettuce.
The first is iceberg, also known as crisphead. It has a round, compact pale-green head and will last for over a week in the refrigerator because it is 90% water. Generally the mildest of the lettuces, iceberg lettuce is valued more for its crunchy texture than for its flavor. It is typically eaten cold and raw in salads, sandwiches, hamburgers, tacos, and in many other dishes. Iceberg lettuce can be very satisfying when garnished with a heavy dressing such as Buttermilk-Blue Cheese.
The second type of lettuce is romaine or cos lettuce. The heads consist of long pale-green leaves that are crisp in texture. When preparing romaine, it is best to discard the dark outer leaves as well as the darker tops of the inner leaves. The crispest, most flavorful parts of the romaine are the lighter leaves near the center. You will sometimes see these labeled as romaine hearts. Romaine pairs well with other crunchy salad ingredients such as cucumbers and onions, as well as fruit and nuts. It is the traditional lettuce used in Caesar salad. Romaine is best served with creamy dressings or dressings that have some richness.
The third type of lettuce is the butterhead variety. It it also sometimes referred to as butter crunch lettuce. Butterhead lettuces have small, round, loosely formed heads with soft, buttery-textured leaves ranging from pale green on the outer leaves to progressively smaller pale yellow-green on the inner leaves. The flavor is sweet and succulent. Because the leaves are quite tender, they require gentle washing and handling. There are 2 main varieties of butterhead lettuce. The first is Boston or butter lettuce and the second is Bibb or Kentucky limestone. Both varieties lend themselves to lighter dressings because of their soft texture and mild flavor.
The fourth type of lettuce is the loose-leaf variety. This variety of lettuce does not form a compact head. The leaves on a head of loose leaf lettuce arrange themselves around a central stalk and are generally large and curly. The leaves are soft, tender, and mild in flavor. To use a whole head, you can twist the base of the lettuce to separate the leaves. Loose leaf varieties include red leaf, green leaf, Ruby, and Oakleaf. In the market, look for heads with firm leaves and no signs of discoloration, slime, or spotting. The dressing should not overpower these delicately flavored greens, so choose
something mild or creamy.
In addition to the four types of lettuce there are many other greens that fill our salad bowls. These are a few of the more common ones.
Arugula is also called rocket or rucola. When young, the dark green leaves are small and tender, but as they mature they become large and a bit tough. Arugula is a member of the mustard family but it is not as bitter as mustard greens. Its taste is peppery and a little nutty. The best dressings for arugula are citrus-based or those enhanced with sweeter vinegars like balsamic.
Belgian Endive is in the chicory family. It grows in compact torpedo-shaped heads about 5 inches long with white leaves tipped with pale yellow green. The leaves have a mild crunch and are bitter in taste. To use, cut off the end and separate the leaves. Endive does well with a dressing that tempers the bitterness. It does well with creamy dressings, mustard-based dressings, or with sweeter citrus dressings.
Chicory is also known as curly endive or frisee.
It has jagged spidery leaves that grow in open heads from a compact center. The leaves are crunchy and assertive in flavor - bitter, but not as bitter as Belgian endive or radicchio. Chicory needs a strong-flavored vinaigrette, preferably based on red wine or sherry
Dandelion has long, deeply notched leaves that tend to be slightly bitter. It is good raw or cooked. Dandelion greens need a strong dressing and pairs well with chopped hard-boiled eggs and crisp bacon or pancetta.
Escarole is also in the chicory family. It has broad flat dark-green leaves in compact heads and has a bit of a crunch. Escarole can be eaten raw or cooked and needs a full-flavored dressing.
Mache is also known as lamb’s lettuce. It is mildly sweet with little round dark-green leaves. Mache needs a mild dressing.
Mesclun is a mix of assorted small, young salad leaves. (The word comes from the Latin for ‘miscellaneous.’) The traditional mix includes chervil, arugula, leafy lettuces and endive in equal proportions but modern mixes may include other greens. Mesclun is usually sold in a plastic bag or container and is sometimes labled "Spring Mix." It will last up to 5 days in your refrigerator.
Microgreens are tiny versions of fully grown leaves and are harvested when very young, about a week old. They are small but intense in flavor and can be expensive.
Radicchio is a member of the chicory family and is native to the Veneto region of Italy. The three types are named after towns in the region. Treviso has elongated red and white leaves (the green version is Pan di Zucchero.) Rosso di Verona or Palla rossa is a round, compact head of red leaves veined with white. Castelfranco comes in rosette-like heads and the leaves are white and pale gold with small veins of red and pale green. Radicchio is bitter and nutty in flavor. It can be eaten raw or cooked. When eaten raw it needs a dressing that is sweet or nutty.
Spinach is a perennial favorite; the leaves are bright green. It comes in large bunched leaves with stems and needs to be well rinsed as it tends to be very sandy. It can also be purchased pre-washed in bags. Baby spinach leaves are smaller and more tender. Avoid purchasing spinach leaves that are starting to yellow. Spinach takes to a variety of dressings as it is neutral and mild.
Watercress has small round dark-green leaves on crunchy stems. It comes in bunches, some with roots attached. It is very peppery and nutty. Watercress offers a good contrast in fruit-based salads and also pairs well with endive. It does best with citrus dressings.
SALAD RECIPES > SALAD GREENS
Why buy bottled salad dressing when it is so easy to make your own? We have 24 dressing recipes for you to choose from.
GREAT ITALIAN WINES FROM WINE.COM
This trio includes a light and crisp Pinot Grigio from Veneto, a juicy red from Tuscany and a spicy Nero d'Avola from Sicily.