Salad Greens – Let the spinning begin!
Now is the time to stretch beyond your lettuce limitations and begin to enjoy the nutritious benefits of the many varieties of salad greens. Don’t let the low calorie content and high water volume trick you in to thinking there isn’t any nutrition in these bountiful greens. Spring is the perfect time to get acquainted with some of the new kids on the block. Let’s take a field trip beyond iceberg and romaine to learn about all that other leafy stuff you see at the grocery store or in the farmer’s markets.
What is the nutrition in salad greens?
Although the nutrition content varies among lettuces and other leafy greens, most are filled with Vitamin A and Vitamin C, with the exception of iceberg. Based on nutrient richness rankings, they also qualify as an excellent source of Vitamin K, beta-carotene, calcium, folate, iron, manganese, and chromium. Most lettuces are also a good source of dietary fiber. One cup of chopped salad greens weighs in at approximately 9 – 25 calories, is cholesterol free, and very low in sodium. So all this coupled with the healthy and nutritious veggies you select as toppings make salads one of the best nutritional investments you can make for a healthy lifestyle.
What are the different types of salad greens?
- Arugula – Arugula belongs to the mustard family and has a distinctive peppery flavor. The young fresh leaves are pungent but very tasty. To use up the rest of the bunch or bag, use this green instead of lettuce on a sandwich, combine with fruit for a salad, or use as a pizza topping.
- Butter Lettuce – Also referred to as Bibb lettuce, this lettuce has tender, rounded leaves with a mild, buttery flavor that form into a soft head. It is often sold in a clam shell to protect its tender leaves. Since the leaves are broad, it’s great for stuffing with cheese, couscous, or as an Asian food wrap.
- Cabbage – Known for its cholesterol lowering ability, (remember the cabbage soup diet), it has recently received special attention in cancer prevention research. As a member of the cruciferous vegetable family, you’ll want to include it frequently in your salads.
- Chard – Most commonly known as swiss chard, recent research has shown that chard leaves contain at least 13 different antioxidants, second only to spinach in its phytonutrient value. Cut into one inch pieces and boil for about 3 minutes to release acid for a sweeter taste. Toss with Mediterranean dressing.
- Endive – Available in green or red heads, endive is rich in folate and high in fiber. Endive is a member of the daisy family. This bitter green can be cooked, braised or served raw in salads.
- Escarole – Escarole is a variety of endive whose leaves are broader, paler and less bitter than other members of the endive family. Toss into salads, serve slightly wilted with lemon juice, or chop and add to soups.
- Frisee or curly endive – These attractive yellowish-green frilly leaves have a strong, pleasantly bitter taste and are attractive as a part of any mixed salad.
- Kale – One of the oldest members of the cabbage family, it is very high in calcium and iron, and most often used in soups or stews.
- Mesclun – The term mesclun comes from the French word for a mix of tender young salad greens. They are often sold in bags or in bulk in the produce department.
- Radicchio – Radicchio is a type of chicory that has dark red leaves with white veins that form into small, loosely wrapped, cabbage-like heads. Radicchio is known for its bitter and slightly spicy taste. It’s typically combined with other lettuces or can be served with beans or potatoes as a side dish.
- Romaine – Widely known as the main ingredient in Caesar salad, these sturdy green leaves will add crunch and texture to sandwiches as well. Use the inner leaves for healthy dips, such as hummus.
- Spinach – Now labeled as a “power” food, eating spinach will help you meet your daily requirements for calcium, Vitamin A, and iron. Sauté with garlic, add to sandwiches, soups and pasta dishes.
- Watercress – Dating back to ancient Greek and Roman times, a growing body of evidence recently suggests that watercress can be a stand alone as a cancer-fighter, due to its high level of phytochemicals. It’s a great addition to sandwiches and salads, or consider using it with sweet fruits such as pear or papaya to offset its peppery taste.
There are many more variety of leafy greens – dandelion, mustard, and assorted spring greens. Although some of these may not qualify as lettuces, I’m hoping this may give you a leg up on getting out of your salad rut. It’s always a good idea to eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Depending on your palate, you can use these greens interchangeably, and most count as one serving of dark green vegetables. Remember when steaming or sautéing that the leaves reduce to less than 1/3 their size, so don’t hesitate to pile them on!
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How to Select and Store
Regardless of the type, all lettuces should feature crisp looking, unwilted leaves that are free of dark or slimy spots. In addition, the leaves’ edges should be free of brown or yellow discoloration. Lettuces such as Romaine and Boston should have compact heads and stem ends that are not too brown.
All types of lettuce should be stored away from ethylene-producing fruits, such as apples, bananas and pears, since they will cause the lettuce leaves to brown.
Since different types of lettuce have different qualities, different methods should be used when storing. While romaine and leaf lettuce can be stored for five to seven days and washed and dried before storing; the more fragile greens such as arugula and watercress should be wrapped in a damp paper towel and stored with their roots attached. Store greens in a plastic bag in the crisper. A salad spinner can be very helpful in the drying of lettuce (and other salad ingredients as well).