Do you have a standard go-to lettuce when you make a salad? It’s time to excite your taste buds and learn about the wide variety of salad greens we have available here in Vermont, each with their own characteristic appearance and unique taste.
It is important that we distinguish between lettuce and salad greens.
There are four classifications of lettuce
Crisphead or iceberg:
This variety has a mild taste with a crunchy texture and is made up of almost 90% water.
This variety has long, pale green leaves with a characteristic thick, white rib in the center. These leaves are crisp in texture with the most flavorful parts closest to the center.
This variety has tender leaves that range in color from pale green to yellow-green with a small, round head. The two main varieties are Boston or butter lettuce and Bibb or Kentucky limestone.
This variety has soft, tender curly leaves that arrange themselves around a central stalk and do not form a compact head. They are mild in flavor and include red leaf, green leaf, Ruby and Oakleaf.
What is a leafy green?
The term leafy greens refers to those sold in an unprocessed form. They include romaine, escarole, endive, spinach, cabbage, chard and collard greens.
We commonly find packages of “mixed greens” when grocery shopping. They include a blend of baby lettuces, spinach, arugula and other young leafy vegetables washed, cut and minimally altered from their original, whole state. One serving of salad greens or lettuce is two cups or one cup of cooked greens.
Arugula, also known as rocket or rugola, originated from the Mediterranean and is part of the mustard family. It is commonly found in mesculin mixes as it adds a nice peppery bite. The tender, pungent green leaves are incorporated into a lot of Italian dishes. The darker, aged leaves have a stronger peppery flavor. It makes them excellent for soups and as a pizza topping. The paler, younger leaves lend themselves well in salads or pesto.
When buying arugula, avoid leaves that are yellow or wilted. Look for those that are a vibrant green color and store in a cool, moist area. It is best paired with a citrus based dressing or one that includes a sweeter vinegar, like balsamic. Beyond its tangy flavor addition to a salad, arugula contains a generous amount of Vitamin K for bone health, Vitamin A to support vision and folate as well as fiber and phytochemicals that fight free radical damage.
Boston Bibb lettuce
Boston bibb lettuce is one of the dozens of varieties of butterhead lettuces and is available to consumers year round. Its characteristic compact rosette shaped head contains wavy, buttery flavored leaves. The outer green leaves are soft and thick and become more tightly bound and yellow in color as you get towards the center of the head.
When purchasing, look for heads that are dense and heavy for their size and avoid those with wilted or brown outer leaves.
Boston lettuce has a sweet, nutty flavor and provides the perfect crisp leaves to accompany any salad or can be a substitute for bread in a sandwich. With around 20 calories per cup, bibb lettuce is full of Vitamin A to help protect the body from free radicals and maintain healthy teeth, skin and bones. It also contains Vitamin K which plays an important role in blood clotting and maintaining bone strength.
Recipe: Mixed Greens With Feta and Dried Cranberries
This month’s recipe uses mixed greens as the base for a delicious salad that combines a slightly sweet note from dried cranberries, a crunch and healthy dose of fat from slivered almonds and a salty, tangy bite from feta cheese to satisfy any palate. A simple oil and vinegar dressing lightly coats the mixture to heighten each of these individual flavors. Serve this salad as a side to any grilled protein or fish or top with an egg or canned beans for a satisfying meatless meal.
Mixed Greens With Feta and Dried Cranberries
- 8cupsmixed greens, torn into bite-size pieces
- 1/2cupdried cranberries
- 1cupslivered almonds, lightly toasted
- 1cupfeta cheese, crumbled
- 1/2cupolive oil
- 1/8cupcider vinegar (you can substitute balsamic vinegar)
- 1/2medium onion, chopped
- 1/8tspdry mustard
- 1/8tspcelery salt
- Combine greens, cranberries, almonds, and feta in a large bowl.
- Whisk olive oil, cider vinegar, sugar, onion, paprika, dry mustard, pepper, and celery salt together to make a vinaigrette.
- Add vinaigrette, toss to coat, and serve immediately.
Sarah Yandow, CHWC, is a wellness health coach with Employee Wellness and Employer Health Management at the University of Vermont Medical Center.