As people become more nutrition conscious,
salads become an essential part of a healthy meal, or even as
the meal itself. Part of the reason for the popularity of salads
is the freshness of the principal ingredients. For years, iceberg
lettuce dominated the choice of salad greens, but today other
lettuces are also popular. Greens from other botanical families
are becoming frequent additions to fresh salads, as well. If
iceberg is the only type of lettuce you eat, you are choosing
the least nutritious member of a family of nutritional champions.
Any other lettuce or leafy green vegetable would be a better
choice. Most other greens are also good sources of vitamin C,
beta-carotene, folate, and dietary fibre as well as some calcium.
As a general rule, the darker green the leaves,
the more nutritious the salad green. For example, romaine or
watercress have seven to eight times as much beta-carotene,
and two to four times the calcium, and twice the amount of potassium
as iceberg lettuce. By varying the greens in your salads, you
can enhance the nutritional content as well as vary the tastes
Salad greens must be fresh and crisp. It is easy to spot wilted
greens; watch out for limp, withered leaves that have brown
or yellow edges, or dark or slimy spots. Once greens have passed
their prime, there is no way to restore them to crisp freshness.
Lettuce and other greens should be displayed under refrigeration,
as they are very perishable vegetables.
Try to choose lettuce with healthy outer
leaves; these are likely to be the most nutritious part of the
green, containing much more beta-carotene and vitamin C than
the pale inner leaves. Unfortunately, the outer leaves are usually
the most damaged part of the head, but from a nutritional standpoint,
it's best to salvage as many as you can.
Iceberg and other head lettuces should be
symmetrically shaped. Choose a head with its dark green outer
leaves intact and healthy looking. The stem end of a head of
iceberg lettuce may look brown; this discolouration is the natural
result of harvesting and does not indicate damage. If the head
is not wrapped, sniff the stem end: It should smell slightly
sweet, not bitter.
Iceberg lettuce should be compact and firm,
yet springy: Very hard heads may be overmature and bitter. Avoid
overly large heads of romaine, which may have tough, fibrous
Most lettuces and other greens keep best in a plastic bag in
the refrigerator salad drawer. Soft leaved lettuces do not keep
as well as firm greens, such as romaine or iceberg lettuce:
Iceberg should keep for up to two weeks, romaine for about 10
days, and butterhead and leaf lettuces for about four days.
Buy only enough for immediate use, or keep them for more than
a day or two.
Don't store greens near fruits, such as apples
or bananas, which give off ethylene gas as they ripen. Otherwise,
the greens will develop brown spots and decay rapidly. For appetisingly
crisp greens, and to minimise last minute preparation at mealtime,
wash and dry them, then layer the leaves in clean paper towels
and place in a plastic bag. Refrigerate in the salad drawer
until serving time, but not more than a few hours, for optimal
If you purchase a cellophane wrapped head
of iceberg lettuce, leave it in the wrapper until you are ready
to use it. Untie bunches of greens, such as watercress, and
check them for insects. Greens sold with their roots intact
keep best if you wrap the roots in damp paper towels, then place
the whole bunch in a plastic bag. Greens with their roots attached
can also be placed upright in a glass of water (like a bouquet
of flowers), covered with a plastic bag, and refrigerated.
Greens must be washed, and in some cases trimmed before you
put them in the salad bowl.
Since grit tends to collect at the stem end
of looser-headed greens, it's important to twist off the stem
and separate the leaves before washing them. (If you're not
using the entire lettuce at one meal, just remove as many leaves
as you need from the stem.)
To wash small leaved greens on stems, cut
off the roots, hold the greens by the stems, and swish them
around in a large bowl of cool water. Lift out the leaves, letting
the sand and grit settle, then empty and refill the bowl and
repeat the process.
A salad spinner greatly simplifies the preparation
of greens by drying them quickly and thoroughly. Dry leaves
are a must if the dressing is to adhere properly.
It's best to core iceberg first: Cut the
head in half lengthwise and then remove the core with a stainless
steel knife; or, rap the head, core-end down, then twist and
lift the core out. If you're using the whole head, rinse it
by running cold water into the cored end, then invert the lettuce
to drain it well.
You can either tear greens into bite-sized
pieces by hand or cut them with a knife; each method has its
proponents. As long as you use a stainless steel blade (carbon
steel can cause blackening and alter the flavour) and serve
the salad soon after it's prepared, it's safe to cut most greens.
However, delicate leaves, such as butterhead lettuce , are more
appealing when torn (or left whole). Iceberg lettuce can be
cut into thick slices ("rafts"), wedges, chunks, or
shreds, or simply torn.
In addition to their use in salad, many salad
greens can be briefly cooked and served as main-dish or side-dish
vegetables. The firmer and more strongly flavoured greens, such
as escarole or chicory, benefit the most from cooking by mellowing
the taste. Even butterhead lettuce can be braised.