Pictured Recipe: Simple Green Salad with Citronette
A big green salad is the little black dress of the culinary world. It suits nearly any occasion, can be simple or sophisticated, dressed up or down. The foundation of most salads is a broad spectrum of lettuces and salad greens—and there is a distinction between the two. Lettuces are a subset of salad greens.
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There are three main types of lettuce: crisphead, butterhead and loose-leaf. Crisphead lettuces—such as iceberg and romaine—grow in very tightly clasped round heads. Romaine lettuce grows in elongated heads. Each leaf has a substantial rib running along the center. Loose round rosettes of tender butterhead leaves take well to light dressings, such as a simple shallot-mustard vinaigrette. Mildly flavored loose-leaf lettuces grow in open layers in very loosely formed heads and often have ruffly leaves. Common loose-leaf lettuces are red and green oakleaf.
Salad greens comprise a larger group of leafy vegetables, such as arugula, watercress and the chicories, which also make great additions to your salad bowl. Toss up a mixture of lettuces and salad greens for a more interesting texture and flavor.
The red-tipped leaves of this loose-leaf lettuce are a variant of green-leaf lettuce. They add a spark of color to salads.
The crisp, elongated leaves of this lettuce are the main ingredient in classic Caesar salad.
These beautiful rosette-like heads have soft, buttery-textured leaves. Common varieties include Boston, Bibb, and Buttercrunch.
Created in the 1940s for its ability to travel long distances, this crunchy lettuce is the base for two salads—the chopped salad and the wedge salad—that are now considered cornerstones of American comfort food.
The ruffly, mild-flavor leaves of this loose-leaf lettuce are good for both salads and layering on sandwiches.
These tiny leaves—also called lamb's lettuce or corn salad—have a nutty flavor and delicate texture.
A quick-growing, peppery salad green that stars in most mesclun mixes. Baby arugula has a more mellow flavor and larger-leafed mature arugula is more intensely spicy.
In the wild, watercress, a vivid green plant with delicate round leaves, grows along running waterways and has fresh, pungent flavor with peppery heat.
The leaves of this common "weed" contribute pleasant bitterness to salads. Some varieties have leaves with smooth edges—others are jagged. Puntarelle, a type of chicory (see page 191), has a similar taste and appearance.
This mix of tender young greens can include leafy lettuces, arugula, frisée, spinach, chard, dandelion, mustard, radicchio and mâche, and soft-stemmed herbs such as parsley, dill and chervil.
Chicories can be loose-leafed or in tight heads, tapered or round, smooth or frilly. Colors range from white to pale yellow to all shades of green to wine red. Their common characteristics are a structural sturdiness and a distinct bitterness that balances the sweeter, more delicate lettuces with which they are often combined. Common types include curly endive, frisée, escarole, Belgian endive and radicchio.
The broad, scoop-shape leaves grow in tightly closed tapered heads. There are both white/pale green and white/red varieties.
Very similar in flavor to broader-leaved curly endive, the fine, frizzy leaves of this chicory add interesting texture to salads.
'Chioggia', the most common variety of this intensely flavored chicory, grows in heads of wine-red leaves with bright white veins.
The large outer leaves of these leafy, lettuce-like heads have a hearty flavor and subtle bitterness, while the pale yellow heart is tender, juicy, and faintly bittersweet.
Sometimes simply called "chicory," this jagged-leafed green adds a structural sturdiness and distinct bitterness that balances the sweeter, more delicate lettuces.
Choose dense, heavy head lettuces with bright color and no browning on the outer leaves.
Choose loose-leaf lettuces that have crisp leaves with no signs of wilting.
Salad greens should have good color with no yellowing, wilting or brown spots.
Wash and thoroughly dry greens just before use—dressing adheres better to dry greens and extra water dilutes the flavor of the dressing. We like to use a salad spinner: Separate the leaves of head lettuces and loose-leaf lettuces. Add cold water to within 1 inch of the top of the bowl, fill the basket two-thirds full with greens and submerge in the water. Soak greens at least 5 minutes. (Repeat if your greens are particularly dirty or sandy.) Lift out the basket, discard the water and return the basket to the spinner. Cover and spin the greens until dry. Blot any remaining water with a kitchen towel.
Store lettuces in a plastic bag in the crisper in the refrigerator. Crisphead and romaine lettuces can be stored up to 1 week. More delicate butterhead and loose-leaf lettuces can be stored up to 5 days. Store loose salad greens in a plastic bag wrapped in a paper towel in the crisper in the refrigerator up to 3 days.
Lettuces and salad greens are perhaps the easiest of all vegetables to grow. Picking a beautiful salad from your backyard minutes before a meal is deeply satisfying. Start head lettuces indoors 6 weeks before the last frost date and transplant outdoors 3 weeks before the last frost date. Sow other types of lettuces and salad greens directly in the soil in early spring or fall. Choose a site with loose, well-drained soil, enriched with compost, in sun to part shade. Keep the soil moist, cool and free of weeds. As seedlings grow, thin to 4 to 6 inches apart (eat the young plants as you thin them).
Harvest lettuces and salad greens when they reach the desired size. Cut head lettuces about 1 inch above the lowest leaves. As soon as loose-leaf and romaine lettuces are big enough to spare a few leaves, snap off individual leaves from the outer edges of the head. Baby lettuce blends or mesclun can be cut with scissors about 1 inch above the lowest leaves.