Know your Salad Greens…

Why are greens important? What are the different types available? How do I clean them? How do I store them? Do they have to be cooked? How do I cut them? These are the common questions that come to your mind when you are choosing the greens to make your salads.

The importance of eating green leafy vegetables is a known fact that even a school kid will be able to tell you. Well, they are rich in Vitamin A, Vitamin C, beta-carotene, calcium, folate, fibre and phytonutrients and are low in calories. Lettuce is the most commonly used salad green and there are many different varieties of lettuces available in the market. They can be available in the form of heads or merely leaves. Sometimes you can get a bag of mix tender leaves called mesclun in the supermarket. So when you are dieting, lettuce is something which you can consume in more quantity and yet the calories intake will be low. Here are some of the available salad greens :

  1. Iceberg Lettuce
    This is the most commonly available type of lettuce in the form of rounded head. It is known for its crisp leaves that stay crisp longer than most lettuces. The leaves are paler in colour and its fridge life is more than other lettuces. However, nutrients wise this one will fall lower on the list as compared with the other lettuces.
  2. Romaine Lettuce

    This one is also called the cos lettuce. The leaves are dark green and coarse in texture. It was first grown in the papal gardens of Rome and hence the name Romaine. But the Greeks call it Cos after the island of Cos where it is grown. The heads are elongated in shape. The leaves have a pronounced centre rib which is mostly removed while using in the salad. It is typically used in Casear salad. It is also used in middle eastern salads like Fattoush. It is perhaps the richest in nutrients in the lettuce family.
  3. Butterhead Lettuce
    These come in three varieties namely Butter, Boston and Bibb and nearly indistinguishable in appearance, taste and texture. Bibb is a smaller and more expensive variety. In general, Butterhead lettuce comes in small rounded heads with soft fragile leaves that go from dark green outside to yellowish green inside. Due to its mildly sweet flavour, it can used in salads, sandwiches, wraps, burgers etc. The leaves form a great base for salads due to their cup like shape.
  4. Green Leaf Lettuce

    Also called loose leaf lettuce, this lettuce is more like a bunch of loose leaves than a head. The leaves have curly edges. it is mild in flavour and wilts rather easily.
  5. Lola Rossa or the Red Leaf Lettuce
    Also called lolo rosso, it is a lettuce with beautiful magenta or red leaves with frills and light green base. Just like green leaf lettuce, lolo rosso has a mild flavour and wilts very easily.
  6. Frisee 

    Frisee is also called the curly endive or chicory or frizzy and is a delicate tasting lettuce. This has an open head and curly leaves. It is bright green in colour on the outside and has a pale yellow heart.
  7. Argula
    Argula is also called rocket or rucola or roquette and is mostly found in Italian salads. These leaves have a rather distinct pungent taste. It can be eaten raw in the salads or can be consumed cooked.
  8. Napa Cabbage
    Nappa cabbage is a type of Chinese cabbage light green in colour. It has a tender yet crisp texture and a mild cabbage flavour. Mostly used in Chinese or Asian cooking, this cabbage is a good crunchy addition to salads. When refrigerated, it has a good life of upto almost 2 weeks.
  9. Bok Choy or Pak Choi

    This is another variety of Chinese cabbage and can be eaten raw, stir fried or lightly steamed.
  10. Spinach
    This one does not require any introduction. Small and tender spinach leaves are excellent salad green either alone or mixed with other greens.
  11. Watercress

    This is an aquatic plant with pungent and peppery flavour. It is mostly used as a garnish in soups, can be used as a salad green or can be steamed and consumed as a vegetable. As it grows in water, it has to be thoroughly cleaned before consumption.
  12. Kale
    Kale belongs to the cabbage family except that the leaves do not form heads. It comes in green or purple leaves and is mostly consumed cooked. It can be also consumed raw in salads. Crispy kale chips are also popular.
  13. Cabbage
    Cabbage is most popularly used in a Cole Slaw. This crispy vegetable can be consumed raw or cooked. It also comes in red colour and adds colour to the salad.
  14. Chives
    Chives are close relatives of garlic, onions and leek and are mostly used as flavouring herbs or garnishes in salads.
  15. Spring Onions

    The bulbs and greens form an excellent garnish for salads.

I hope that I have covered most of the salad greens that are available in India. Here,  I have not spoken about herbs and plan to take that up in another blog.

The availability of most of these salad greens has increased considerably as they are grown locally now. They can be bought from supermarkets in your locality. Godrej Nature’s basket, Green Tokri can deliver them home if you order online. The life of most of these salad greens is not more than a week after which they either start wilting or start turning rust or brown spots on them. The rust on lettuce doesn’t make it in inedible, but simply unattractive to eat. You can remove those parts and consume the rest. So when you are purchasing the lettuce make sure it is fresh and green.

How to store the salad greens ?
To store the lettuce, you can wrap it in a dry paper towel and then store it in a container or plastic bag in the refrigerator. Remember to maintain the correct humidity level and temperature in the refrigerator.

How to clean the salad greens?
When cleaning a head of lettuce or a bunch of greens, separate the desired amount of leaves from the bunch or head and soak it in a bowl of cold water. Try to swirl the leaves in the water so that the dirt stuck to the leaves is removed. Refresh the water a couple of times till you are left with clear not muddy water. Put in a colander and wash under running water. Alternatively you could also use the salad spinners available in the market to wash the salads. Once washed, make sure that you have drained all the water and dry the leaves on paper towels. Keep them refrigerated till further use.

Most lettuce leaves can to be broken into pieces with hand. That way the damage to the leaves is minimal. However when you have got a large quantity of salad to make, you can use a sharp knife to cut the salad head without separating the leaves to the size you desire. Spinach leaves can be cut into a chiffonade depending on the use they will be put to. For more information in cuts please refer to my blog on Knife Skills.

Always remember to keep your greens in the refrigerator to keep them crisp. The greens have to be well drained and devoid of any washing water otherwise the salad will taste bland. If you take these simple precautions and care, all you would require is a good dressing to toss up a great salad. So what are you waiting for ?

Photos  are courtesy internet