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We are salad lovers at Kitchen Authority.
In fact, we grow a variety of different types of lettuce and salad greens in our year-round greenhouse / kitchen garden as well as in one of our outdoor gardens each year.
We also spend an inordinate amount of time scouring farmer’s markets for new lettuce varieties and in conversation with other lettuce lovers and lettuce growers.
Interesting Fact: Lettuce is actually part of the daisy family! Gardeners around the world love growing the almost countless varieties and types of lettuce.
Different types of lettuce are used most often for salads but they show up in recipes for everything from soups and sandwiches and wraps. I can’t imagine Korean BBQ without lettuce.
Salad greens come in four main categories: Looseleaf, Butterhead, Crisphead and Romaine.
Iceberg is arguably the most popular lettuce in the US. It’s got a crunch and texture that other lettuces just can’t compete with. Americans traditionally eat it cold and raw in their salads, sandwiches, burgers, tacos and even wraps.
Iceberg is also the core of my personal favorite salad to accompany a nice ribeye steak. The simple but magical Wedge Salad.
The ingredients for a simple wedge salad are usually easily at hand in any kitchen: iceberg lettuce, tomato, onion, bacon and blue cheese dressing.
Iceberg has virtually no calories and is mostly water (90%) so it’s not packed with nutrients. It does, however, make the perfect salad dressing and garnish delivery mechanism.
Iceberg lettuce was orignally called Crisphead lettuce and was shipped by the California lettuce growers covered in crushed ice to keep it super-fresh.
Romaine follows after iceberg if you were charting lettuce crispiness. It’s popular in sandwiches and maybe most importantly is the basis for the celebrated Caesar salad. (Our go-to Caesar Dressing recipe is from Bob Blumer)
Butterhead lettuce is also known as Bibb lettuce and Boston Lettuce. It’s characterized by it’s semi-sweet, tender leaves that have a near-velvet texture. It’s popular in a variety of salads.
it’s rich in vitamins and like most lettuce has almost no calories.
Looseleaf lettuce come in many different varieties. They are colorful and fast growing and are perfect for indoor kitchen gardens. With an open head, you can harvest just the right amount from the living lettuce plant.
Arugula is often called Rocket and has a very distinctive peppery flavor. There are different varieties of arugula and the leaves can vary in length and shape. Arugula can also vary in flavor strength – wild-harvested arugula is more pungent and really pops in a salad. Look for it at your local farmer’s market.
Arugula pairs well with punchy vinaigrettes like this Lemon Parmesan Dressing from epicurious. One of my favorite breakfast joints in Southeast Asia – Overstand – adds it to some of their breakfast sourdough creations. My son adds it to his chicken salad sandwiches. Delicious!
The Belgian Endive has small, tight head and delivers awesome flavor and satisfying crunch. They are equally good as an addition to a standard salad but are very popular braised and caramelized. They are generally grown indoors these days so are usually available year round at markets.
Like a traditional endive the curly endive has that characteristic sharp bitterness. Frisée is well-known as the base for the classic French Bistro Salad with bacon and poached egg. It’s also delicious in a variety of salads that include fruit and/or nuts.
Radicchio is part of the chicory family and is known for it’s red leaves and it’s spicy bitter flavor. It’s very popular in Italian salads as well as grilled and served Antipasto and added to pasta dishes.
Dandelion greens have a distinctive bitterness and are not everyone’s favorite. They are partcularly good cooked and are used in a variety of Asian cuisines.
Mache is known variously as corn lettuce or rapunzel or lamb’s lettuce. It’s a small, tender lettuce varietal with dark green leaves. It has a much-loved sweet taste and is popular in it’s native Europe both cooked and raw.
Mesclun is not a specific lettuce variety but a mixture of various salad greens like young lettuce, arugula and endives. It’s typically used as a base to build from and is more commonly known as Spring Mix in the US.
Mizuna has a mild but distinctive peppery taste. It’s sometimes referred to as Japanese mustard greens or spider mustard. It’s a staple in Japan and can be found in a variety of Japanese soups, stir-fries and hot pots.
Escarole is another salad green that’s part of the chicory family. It has characteristic broad and flat leaves and grows in a compact head. It has a nice crunch and can be eaten raw or cooked with a full-flavored salad dressing.
Watercress gets it’s name from it’s semi-acquatic growing environment. It’s known as both a salad green and a herb. It’s got a light, peppery flavor and goes great on sandwiches, in soups, and added to many salads.
Kale is a member of the cabbage family. It has a heavy and hearty texture with a faint bitterness.
Spinach is not a lettuce but is adored by many salad lovers and is an honorary “salad green”. With bright green leaves it grows in large buches that need to be carefully washed. Spinach is very mild and goes with almost any dressing. The Baby Spinach leaves are also a favorite in the Kitchen Authority Test Kitchen.
Oak Leaf lettuce comes in a variety of “colors” – green, red and bronze – and is excellent in all salad types with pretty much any dressing. It’s a solid lettuce choice.
Purslane can be picked in the wild in meadow lands but is typically available at specialty grocers and farmer markets.
It’s thick, sponge-like leaves work well with simple herb dressings.