So many different shapes, sizes and flavors. If you’re interested in exploring lettuce beyond “watery” iceberg, then here’s the place to start.
Get to know your lettuce varieties from mizuna, to mâche, to tatsoi and everything in between! Try a mix of any of these with a classic French dressing.
Also known as: rocket, rucola
Characteristics: As with it’s powerhouse cousins, broccoli and cabbage, arugula is high in nutrition and is considered by some to be an aphrodisiac. Originating from the Mediterranean, arugula tastes more peppery than bitter and can be substituted with watercress for a similar flavor. It is quite perishable, so don’t buy too much before you plan to use it. If you find arugaula too bitter, then give baby arugula a try, it’s milder and less bitter than the rich mature greens.
Uses: Arugula is versatile in salads (it goes particularily well with fresh lemon and parmesan), cooked with pastas or meats or as the basis for a pesto. In Europe, it’s often served on pizzas.
BABY BEET GREENS
Also known as: beet tops
Characteristics: Beet leaves are best-tasting when they are young and tender, with a slightly spicy flavor. Not only do they taste great, the greens with their thin purplish-red “veins” are visually striking and are great for dressing up any salad. When wilted, the “veins” become brighter in color and sweeter. Another reason to eat them: beet greens are a powerhouse of nutrients.
Uses: Beet greens can be steamed, braised, or sautéed, or eaten raw in salads. They will keep in the refrigerator for about a week.
B UTTER LETTUCE
Also known as: Bibb lettuce, Boston lettuce
Characteristics: As its name implies, the texture of this head lettuce’s leaves is buttery soft tender and smooth. Bibb lettuce is the more expensive variety and is usually sold in a plastic container to protect its delicate leaves. Although similar, Boston’s leaves are wider and a lighter green color than Bibb’s. Mild and sweet, butter lettuce originated in the Mediterranean, whereas the newer varieties developed in the United States.
Uses: Perfect used as a bed on a plate or platter to hold or showcase other salad ingredients. This lettuce is very fragile and its leaves wilt quickly, so it is best stored in a perforated bag in the vegetable crisper of the refrigerator. Don’t rinse with water until ready to serve, otherwise the leaves will start to disintegrate.
Also known as: Belgian endive, French endive, witloof, witloof chicory, Belgium chicory
Characteristics: Endive leaves have a unique oval shape with a soft, satiny texture and they have a slight bitterness. Endive is grown in dark conditions such as barrels or boxes, causing the endive to grow in elongated small heads that are light green to white in color.
Uses: Serve chopped or sliced in any salad, or separate the leaves and use them as the perfect “spoon” for serving small appetizers. Endive can also be lightly braised or sautéed and served with poultry or fish, however do not use cast iron—it will blacken the leaves. Endive, should only be rinsed, never soaked, as this will increase its bitterness. To store, wrap in a damp paper towel and refrigerate up to five days, anything longer could increases its bitterness.
Also known as: Batavian or Bavarian endive, broad-leaved endive
Characteristics: Closely related to frisée, also a member of the chicory family, it is characterized by large, dark-green leaves that have a mildly bitter flavor and crisp texture. The outer leaves are a dark green, but peeling back a layer or two will reveal a lighter shade. The lighter the shade of the leaves, the less degree of bitterness.
Uses: Escarole is often used in soups and paired with beans. It also works well sautéed and served with fish, beef, or pasta with a hearty tomato sauce. Use the lighter, less bitter leaves in a salad, they add lot of visual interest and taste. The dark outer leaves and super sautéed with garlic!
Also known as: Curly endive, chicory, chicory endive, curly chicory
Characteristics: Closely related to escarole, it has wide, long, curled leaves that are either tinged with yellow and green, or a variation of green, and sometimes edged with red. The leaves are slightly bitter and nutty in taste, have a crunchy stem, adding lots of texture to salads. Frisée is fragile so dressings should only be added directly before serving, otherwise the vinegar will quickly make its leaves wilt.
Uses: Frisée should be prepared by tearing it into pieces by hand, rather than cutting it with a knife. Limp frisée can be revived by dunking it first into lukewarm water and then into ice water to give it a shock. When refrigerating, be sure that air can circulate around the leaves, allowing it to breath, otherwise it will spoil faster.
Also known as: Curly kale, collard greens
Characteristics: Kale is one of the very best vegetables for nutritional value out there. The “queen of greens”, kale is a rather coarse leaved vegetable that is related to cabbage, collards and brussels sprouts, with a number of different varieties grown all around the world. Kale is able to grow well into the cooler winter months, freezes well, and I am told, tastes sweeter if harvested in the spring. As for storing, it should be kept cool since warm temperatures will cause it to wilt and negatively affects its flavor.
Uses: To prepare, tear off the crisp leaves from the heavy stalks (discard the stalks, as they are generally too fibrous to enjoy eating). Kale can replace spinach in many recipes or can be used raw in salads and it holds up well to being sauteed, baked and as a green in hearty stews. When using in a salad, a massaging the leaves with olive oil does wonders, it turns bitter and tough into silky and sweet.
Also known as: Leaf lettuce, red leaf lettuce
Characteristics: The leaves on a head of looseleaf lettuce are arranged around a central stalk like a loose rosette. It has supple, slightly curly, sturdy leaves and a crunchy stem. Young lettuce heads are more upright than slightly older lettuce, which splay out. It is mild, slightly sweet, with a hint of butter flavor, whereas red leaf, which is also light in flavor may also reveal a bit spiciness.
Uses: Because the leaves are so large, tear them up by hand into bite-size pieces. It’s ruffled surface is great at adding layers and textures to salads.
M ÂCHE (pronounced “mahsh”)
Also known as: Lamb’s lettuce
Characteristics: Mâche is a cool weather crop that grows wild in parts of Europe, northern Africa, and western Asia. Mâche is often times sold with roots and even soil still attached, so needs to be washed well, sometime a number of times. Young roots can be left on, otherwise removed. This salad green has a soft texture and subtle flavor which adds a lovely mild and slightly sweet, nutty flavor to any salad. One fo my favorities!
Uses: Mâche works well in combination with crisp, more robust greens. It complements stronger flavored greens like arugula, endive, chicory, cress, and other more bitter lettuces. The leaves are particularly delicate, so should be handled carefully.
Also known as: Japanese greens, oriental greens, spider mustard
Characteristics: Mizuna adds a lot of texture to salads and are typically sold as part of a pre-made salad mix, such as mesclun. It can also be purchased loose at the farmers’ market or specialty food markets. Mizuna has a fairly earthy, nutty flavor when compared to other salad greens.
Uses: It can be eaten raw or cooked and used in stir fries and soups. To store, place the greens in a plastic bag and store in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator. Do not wash the leaves until you are ready to use them and only rinse them briefly in cold water. For optimal flavor and texture, they should be used within 3 days.
Also known as: Leaf mustard
Characteristics: Part of the cabbage family, mustard greens come in many varieties. It can have smooth, oval leaves or jagged, elongated leaves. Mustard greens have been cultivated in Asia and Europe for centuries and have a long harvesting season. They are available throughout the year, but best eaten in season (from December through April) when they are freshest and most readily available.
Uses: Mustard greens can be cooked like spinach or eaten raw in salads. They have a sharp, peppery flavor that can be enhanced with a sweet, mild vinaigrette. Leaves and stems can also be used in a stir-fry and added to soups and stews. Health-wise, mustard greens are remarkable. Considered to be an anti-cancer vegetable, mustard greens are beneficial for colds, arthritis, or depression.
Also known as: Red oak leaf
Characteristics: Oakleaf lettuce leaves are lobed, shorter, firm, and curlier than red leaf and green leaf lettuce and the leaf tops have a softer texture. It is a delicate, tender lettuce with a mild flavor.
Uses: Oakleaf lettuce is excellent used as a bed for other foods or torn up in a salad. It goes well with any vinaigrette. However, it does not keep for a long time in the refrigerator; 2-3 days maximum and should be stored in the vegetable crisper of the fridge.
Also known as: Red chicory (varieties are named after the Italian regions where they originate, such as radicchio di Chioggia or radicchio di Treviso)
Characteristics: Radicchio is sold either as a compact round head, or shaped like its relative, the endive. It has a red-purplish color and is mildly bitter and spicy in taste. Its bitterness mellows out to a mild sweetness when it is grilled or roasted. It can be substituted with endive or chicory. Radicchio di Chioggia, is round and about the size of a grapefruit, whereas radicchio di Treviso, resembles a large Belgian endive.
Uses: Radicchio can be eaten grilled in olive oil, or mixed into cooked dishes like risotto or eaten raw in salads. Radicchio can be stored in the coldest section of the refrigerator for about a week. To revive and crisp up leaves, soak them for 2 or 3 minutes in lukewarm water. Shake dry, then chill in an airtight container until time to serve.
Also known as: Cos lettuce
Characteristics: Compared to most lettuces, romaine is a leader in nutritional value. It is a large, leafy lettuce that is stiffer than most lettuces and has an ultra crispy thick center rib that gives it a real crunch and refreshing, slightly bitter taste. Baby romaine on the otherhand has tender young leaves.
Uses: Romaine is the standard lettuce used in a Caesar salad. Romaine hearts are the most tender leaves of the romaine and can be cooked just like chard.
TATSOI Also known as: Spoon cabbage, spinach mustard, Chinese flat cabbage, pak choy
Characteristics: The small, rounded, dark green leaves of this east Asian salad green has a mild, mustard-like flavor and is showing up more and more in mesclun salad mixtures.
Its thick leaves offer a mild flavor with a slightly bitter edge. The soft texture is similar to that of baby spinach, collard greens, or mustard greens and can be used interchangeably. As with mizuna, tat soi sold loosely is often only available at the farmers’ market or at specialty gourmet or Asian produce shops.
Uses: When the leaves are young and tender, they make an excellent pesto. Young, tender tat soi leaves can be mixed with lettuces and other greens, drizzled with a vinaigrette. Baby tat soi is usually sold loose and can be used raw in salads, but when mature, tat soi can be purchased whole, in the shape of a rosette. The leaves are tougher and stronger tasting when they’re older, so they are usually used in Chinese and other Asian stir fries or soups, or as a steamed stand-alone vegetable.