Before heading to the market, use this primer to help you select the ingredients for a stimulating lad. When you can’t find interesting salad greens at the supermarket, it’s worth shopping at an ethnic market or a well-stocked specialty or natural foods store. Freshness and quality are critical for a good salad, not only for taste, but because tired greens don’t contain the same nutritional value as ones in good condition.
At this time of year, farm stands are likely to sell lettuces right from local fields, still tasting sweetly of the earth, and salad greens like arugula, with their roots intact and still dusted with soil. You may even find such just-picked gems as red romaine, miniature Tom Thumb, crisp Batavian lettuces, baby kale, chard, or beet greens, and a host of fresh herbs, from chervil and sorrel to a variety of mints. Combine these tender greens with the more common varieties listed below to create truly extraordinary salads.
Arugula: Also called “rocket,” “rockette,” and ruchetta, arugula originated in Western Asia, then worked its way west to the Mediterranean, where it still grows wild. Arugula is a real nutrition powerhouse – two cups contain three-quarters of the beta-carotene and one-third of the calcium you need every day. Arugula also contains more vitamin C – almost a day’s worth in every cup – than any other salad green. As a cruciferous vegetable, arugula may also help protect against cancer. Tender, young arugula has a madly peppery tang, while older leaves can be tough, aggressively strong, and bitter. Arugula is highly perishable. Look for bunches with die roots attached. Wash arugula carefully, as it tends to be very sandy. To keep it as fresh as possible, stand the roots in a glass containing about an inch of water, place a plastic bag over the glass, then refrigerate. The Arugula should stay fresh for a few days.
Belgian Endive: The tightly wound heads of this aristocratic member of the chicory family are pointed at the top, bulbously chubby m thuddle, and tapering at the bottom. The leaves are tender and almost sweet-tasting at their yellow nps. Below that, they are succulent, crisp, and white for the rest of their six – to eight-inch length. They become more bitter toward the bottom of each leaf. The more endive is exposed to direct light, the more bitter-tasting it becomes. Cut the head crosswise into half-inch strips. Add any round, coin like slices from the crunchy core to your salad, along with the chiffonade of strips. Because endive is so pale, it does not contain as many nutrients as dark but is it a good source of vitamin A.
Cress: As its name suggests, watercress, with its dark, blue-green, round leaves, fibrous stalks, and peppery bite, grows in clean, running water. Some local farm markets have upland cress, which grows on dry land and has longer, pointed leaves. Part of the brassica family, cresses are rich any vitamin A and are a good source of calcium. Cress is quite perishable. To store, remove wire wrap or rubber bands from around the stems and trim them at the bottom. Store watercress and upland cress the same way as arugula standing them in an inch of water with a plastic bag inverted over the glass. Use within one day, isarding any yellowed leaves.
Curly Chicory: Ragged, tough, green and white outer leaves make up the outside of each spreading, flat-shaped head, while the inner part shades from white at the woody base to yellow at the tips of each branch like leaf. These sunburst heads measure from eight to twelve inches across. An unruly-looking vegetable, curly chicory is strongly flavored. A two-cup serving of chicory contains one-third of the daily requirement for beta-carotene as well as a healthy dose of calcium. You may want to cook the fibrous outer leaves, using pray the paler, more tender inner part for salads. Wrapped in plastic, curly chicory keeps for about a week in the vegetable crisper.
Dandelion: Its barb-shaped leaves have a central rib running up to their sharply pointed tip. Select tender, paler-colored, small leaves, dandelion gets very bitter and chewy as its leaves darken and length Dandelion is especially rich in beta-carotene and contains a good supply of calcium and iron. Tightly wrapped in plastic wrap, these greens keep for degree to four days and are good with warm or sweet a lot of garlic, nut oils and balsamic or sherry vinegar. Beets make an excellent garnish for a salad containing dandelion greens.
Escarole: A member of the chicory family, escarole has gently ruffled leaves with a fibrous, flattened rib running up the center Resembling curly chicory m size and flattened shape of the head as well as the progression from tough, greener outer leaves to a yellow-tipped blanched inner heart, escarole tastes sweeter than its more unruly looking cousin. Wrapped in plastic, escarole keeps in the crisper bin up to a week.
Frisee: Fine, lacy leaves radiate out from the center of this ragamuffin plant, which looks like a delicate version of curly chicory Its leaves shade from tender spring green or yellow at its feathery tips, down to crisp, white stems. Originally imported into the United States, this pleasantly bitter green is now also grown domestically.
Crisphead (Iceberg) Lettuce: While much maligned iceberg lettuce is mostly water and of minimal nutritional value, keep its cool cranch in mind when composing a mixed salad. The dark, outer leaves of iceberg have a nice nutty flavor and more nutrients than the inner leaves. Look for heads with outer leaves in good condition. Wrapped in plastic, a head of iceberg lettuce keeps for a week or more.
Looseleaf Lettuces: This category includes the ruffle-edged green and red staples found in supermarkets; a host of more delicate varieties sold at farm stands, such as green and red oak leaf and deer tongue; and special varieties found in fancy food stores, including fluffy, variegated lollo Rossa. These lettuces have five times more of vitamins A and C than iceberg.
Butterhead Lettuces: These lettuces have soft, loose heads that look like tender rosettes of crumpled leaves. Bibb, or limestone, and butter, or Boston, are the best known varieties in this group, which also includes shiny red perefla. Butterhead lettuces are quite fragile, with leaves that bruise easily. Still, properly wrapped, they keep three to four days in the refrigerator Hydroponically grown Lakeviue lettuce, with its roots intact and sold in its own plastic shell, keeps up to a week.
Romaine Lettuce: Romaine has more vitamins and minerals than other lettuces, including eight times as much vitamin A and six times as much vitamin C as iceberg. Look for symmetrical heads of this long-leafed lettuce. (Asymmetric heads may mean a duck stem has displaced many of the leaves inside.) When Romaine leaves, be sure to use pieces of their prominent central nb, they add satisfying crunch. Romaine keeps up to a week in the refrigerator if tightly wrapped in plastic.
Mache (also called “corn salad,” “lamb’s ear,” or “lamb’s lettuce”): This tender green in clusters of spoon-shaped velvety leaves that are barely joined at the base. It has been cultivated since Neolithic times. Originally imported into the United States, mache is now grown domestically. Sometimes cultivated hydroponically, its nutty flavor is more intense when the plants are grown in the earth. Like arugula, mache is rich in beta-carotene; it also contains a fair amount of iron. Mache is very perishable and is best bought the day it is to be used. Combine it with soft lettuces such as Bibb and Boston.
Mizuna: This feathery green is a Japanese relative of the mustard family. The spring green, delicate, young leaves, three to six inches long, have a slight bite that goes nicely in salads. The larger, dark green, mature leaves are somewhat leathery and have a more pronounced taste; they are better cooked than in a salad. Young mizuna keeps to four days in a plastic bag. The older leaves keep up to a week.
Mustard Greens: Baby mustard greens, both red and green, add a wasabi-like bite to salads. Some farm stands sell the tender, young leaves, which have an elongated oval shape. They are often found in mixes of baby salad greens, too. just a handful are needed to liven up a bowl of salad. Mustard greens are a good source of beta-carotene, vitamin C, and calcium.
Pea Shoots: These intensely green, curly tendrils with their clover-shaped leaves are actually snow pea pod leaves. They taste just like sweet, young snow peas. Be sure to buy only the top leaves and tenderest tender drills; as they mature, pea shoots become tough, fibrous vines you will not enjoy even when cooked.
Purslane: These fleshy, oval-shaped, dark green leaves resemble those of a jade plant and add a citrus-like flavor to salads. Use only the smaller, more tender leaves; once the plant has flowered, the leaves are too tough to eat. Look for this low, spreading plant, with its reddish stems, growing as a weed in the garden, or at local farmers’ markets. Along with vitamins A and C, purslane contains omega-3 fatty acids useful in reducing the risk of heart disease. Purslane is also an excellent source of iron.
Radicchio: Burgundy red radicchio di Verona, which is shaped like a little cabbage, is the most commonly found variety of this red chicory. In Italy and California (and perhaps at some greengrocers in big cities), you may also see long-leaf varieties, such as variegated radicchio di Treviso or pan di zucchero. To use mildly bitter radicchio, peel away and discard any limp outer leaves. Fold each leaf in half and diagonally tear the thick, fan shaped white stem away from the outer, red part of the leaf. This white part is decidedly more bitter than the softer red area of each leaf Tear the remaining, v-shaped red part, including any white veins that remain, into bite-size pieces and add them to mixed salads. Or use the cup shaped leaves whole as decorative serving containers. Radicchio keeps up to a week in the vegetable crisper
Tatsoi: This Asian green grows in radiating clusters. Its thin, white, chardlike stalks are each topped by a rounded, dark green, dollar-sized leaf, which has a fan of delicate white ribs. This cruciferous vegetable has a flavor delicately reminiscent of cabbage, and the young leaves are especially good in green salads. Tatsoi keeps for four to five days in a plastic bag.