Building a great salad -- Part 1: Greens
A great salad starts with the best greens for the job, but the choices can be overwhelming! Let's take a look at some of the most popular salad greens and how to best use them.
Lettuce is delicious, versatile, and comes in a beautiful variety of shapes, colors, and textures. We grow more than 30 varieties of lettuce on our farm, and we love each of them for a different reason. Here are the main types:
Romaine is the most popular lettuce for a reason! It's mild, delicious, crispy, and has very strong leaves. This last quality makes it hold up well to robust dressings and toppings, such as in Caesar salad, but romaine goes equally well with a light vinaigrette. If you need an easy choice, romaine is a good way to go!
Butterhead, also known as Boston or Bibb lettuce, is a close second to romaine in popularity. Its silky-smooth leaves with their buttery taste are good enough to eat by itself -- our children can often demolish a head before we even get it into the kitchen. The leaves of butterhead are more tender than those of romaine, so it works best with light dressings, and doesn't like being over-mixed since it bruises fairly easily.
Iceberg has a decidedly bad reputation thanks to dried-out fast food salads, but at its best it's crispy, crunchy, and when grown in good soil, actually delicious. Pairs well with heavier dressings such as blue cheese, goes great on a burger, and keeps very well in the fridge. We don't usually grow regular iceberg since it does not prefer our climate (a great understatement) but we do grow several crosses between iceberg and romaine, combining the best qualities of each.
Green and red leaf lettuces come in a wide variety of leaf shapes, oak leaf being the most well known. They're easy to chop into bite-sized pieces for salads, and the crevices of the leaves hold on well to dressing. Their leaves are less sturdy than romaine, so serve the salad soon after dressing, especially if you're using a heavier dressing.
Our salad mix combines the many delicious varieties of lettuce we grow at any given time, in addition to other mild-tasting greens that change seasonally, such as endive, escarole, chicory, mache, or claytonia. With salad mix, you don't have to choose just one color or leaf shape, you can have them all. And they're already the right size for a salad, so you don't need to chop either. The convenience and sensory impact of salad mix are hard to replicate with a single variety of head lettuce.
While lettuce usually takes the spotlight when it comes to salads, many other greens make a great addition to your salad rotation when you're looking to change things up.
Spinach is super nutritious and has delightfully vibrant green, sturdy leaves (leaves are thicker in colder weather) While some love its earthy flavor, for others it can be overpowering when eaten by itself. If this is you, you can still enjoy the benefits of spinach! Either mix with some lettuce for a salad, or use an assertive dressing, such as blue cheese or a strong raspberry vinaigrette. Add some goat cheese, toasted walnuts or pecans, and some cranberries, and you have a beautiful salad with just a hint of spinach flavor.
The peppery flavor of arugula can be divisive, but if you love it, it makes a delightful salad addition. Use it to mix into a salad or by itself it pairs well with roasted beets, oranges, and an almond vinaigrette.
While we usually think of kale as a cooking green, it also makes great salads! Use baby kale either by itself or mixed with other greens, or turn strips of mature kale into an unexpectedly delightful oil-rubbed kale salad.
Endive, Radicchio, and Escarole
A main component of many Italian winter salads, these are bitter greens that can take some getting used to. To tame the bitterness a bit, prefer the lighter green, inner leaves, soak in salty water before using, and/or grill them to bring out the underlying sweetness, as in cold grilled radicchio salad.