Friday, August 9, 2013

The Joys of Summer: Salad Greens

In my parents' home, "lettuce" meant iceberg lettuce, which was usually served in a wedge alongside cruets of oil and vinegar. This lettuce might also appear in a bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich or underneath a few slices of fresh tomato. It is the most common type of lettuce found in American homes. according to the Dept. of Agriculture.

Too bad, because iceberg lettuce is perhaps the least nutritious of the common lettuces, and also has the least taste, although it does have a satisfying crunch. But romaine also has crunch; it is equally crisp and much more nutritious and versatile—good in salads, on sandwiches, and in wraps. If I had to stick to just one kind of lettuce, romaine it would be.

In general, lettuce commonly comes in four main types : crisphead (iceberg, for instance), butterhead (Bibb lettuce, Boston lettuce), cos (romaine to most of us), and leaf lettuce (green leaf, red leaf).
Most supermarkets carry a variety of other salad greens besides lettuce. These include arugula, curly endive, which is also known as frisee and chicory, escarole, spinach, watercress, and that mix of baby greens known as mesclun. Most tasty green salads contain a mixture of lettuces, as well as bland and sharp other greens. Some of these other greens can have strong definite flavors; these work well in salads that contain fruits, bacon, or other powerful flavors. For example, both spinach and arugula pair  well with orange, onion, and avocado, or  with strawberry and goat-cheese.

If you are an iceberg lettuce fan, don't let me discourage you; it's great for lettuce wraps, sandwiches, and wedge salads. But try branching out a bit; most other lettuces are far more colorful than iceberg and also much tastier. The fact that they're also better for you is a plus but not reason alone to switch.

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