Kathy Maister's Start Cooking

Salad Greens From A to Z

posted in Vegetables and Beans by Emily Chapelle

It’s easy to get in a salad rut, turning to the same kind of lettuce every time. Why not go beyond iceberg, romaine, or leaf lettuce and try some more interesting options? Spring is the perfect time to experiment with salad greens, and this post will help you get acquainted with all that leafy stuff at the grocery store.

When you purchase or harvest lettuce, you should wash or rinse it, then store it wrapped in a cloth or paper towel, then in a plastic bag, in the crisper drawer. Store lettuce away from apples, pears and bananas. These fruits release ethylene, a ripening agent which will speed the decay of the lettuce. Because of its high water content, lettuce cannot be frozen or canned for long-term storage. It should always be eaten fresh, within about 10 days of purchase or harvest.

Nutritional content varies among lettuces and greens, though most are filled with Vitamin A and potassium. With the exception of iceberg, most varieties are also a good source of Vitamin C, iron and calcium. Lettuce is also a good source of dietary fiber.

When it comes to making a salad, try creating your own mix by tossing together at least three varieties. Here’s a basic formula:

  • Use a mild lettuce or green, like Boston, bibb or endive
  • Another should be a crisp lettuce or green, like romaine or cabbage
  • The third kind should be tart, peppery, or bitter greens, like arugula or radicchio

After your foundation of greens is mixed, you can add other goodies like carrots, cucumbers, and tomatoes. Or you can venture into the more exciting world of salad-toppers, including edamame, beets, hearts of palm, sunflower seeds, toasted pine nuts, artichoke hearts, and more.

But wait a second. How do you tell arugula from endive? Mizuna from mesclun? Here’s a guide to recognizing and using the various greens in the produce section.

Arugula (pictured above)

Also known as: Rocket
Leaves are: Dark green and tender
Taste is: Bitter and peppery, with a slight mustard taste
Try this arugula salad with tomatoes and avocado.

Butterhead (pictured above)

Includes: Bibb and Boston Lettuce
Leaves are: Loosely formed heads of pale “wrinkled” leaves, smooth buttery texture
Taste is: Sweet and mild
Great on summer sandwiches!


Cabbage (pictured above)

Can be: green or red. Red is sometimes known as “purple cabbage”
Leaves are: crisp and crunchy
Taste is: bitter and sharp

Chard (pictured above)

Also known as: Swiss Chard
Leaves are: large, deep green, “wrinkled” leaves are always eaten cooked
Taste is: similar to beets, while the stalks are somewhat like celery
Try it in this Bean and Swiss Chard soup recipe


Dandelion Greens (pictured above)

Leaves are: tender, flat, with jagged edges
Taste is: bitter
Young dandelion leaves may be used in salads, but the larger ones taste best when they’re cooked

Endive (pictured above)

Leaves are: tender and smooth
Taste is: mild and bitter. The lighter the endive, the milder the flavor is.
Their spoon-like shape makes them perfect for dips or try filling them with crab or chicken salad.

Escarole

Leaves are: wide and frilly
Taste is: mild. This is a good one to add for “fluff” and texture

Frisée (pictured above)

Leaves are: long, wide, and curly. Usually green, but sometimes edged in red
Taste is: slightly peppery or nutty
Try it with blue cheese, walnut, and cranberry on a crostini.

Kale (pictured above)

Leaves are: broad and ruffled, ranging from deep green to a bluish purple
Taste is: very mild, with cabbage undertones
The site Veganyumyum has a delicious-sounding recipe for kale salad with orange-blackberry vinaigrette. Kale is also often served cooked, as in this recipe with cranberries and pine nuts.


Iceberg (pictured above)

Leaves are: tender, crisp, and pale-green
Taste is: mild and crunchy
Perfect for a make-ahead salad with peas


Leaf Lettuce (pictured above)

Leaves are: either red-tipped or dark green, ruffled and tender
Taste is: mild but interesting
Enjoy this lettuce on sandwiches or hamburgers


Mesclun (pictured above)

The term mesclun comes from the French word for a mix of tender young salad greens. You can buy this pre-mixed in bags, or make your own blend.
Leaves are: Varied, as a mesclun could include arugula, frisée, radicchio, dandelion greens, fresh herbs, and other salad greens
Taste is: Depends on the greens included, but is usually “bitter” or peppery
This is good to mix with a milder lettuce or spinach for a great tossed salad!
Try poached eggs with pancetta and tossed mesclun


Radicchio (pictured above)

Leaves are: crisp, deep red and white
Taste is: bitter and peppery
A honey-citrus dressing is the perfect foil for radicchio’s peppery bite


Romaine (pictured above)

Also known as: cos
Leaves are: long green leaves, with a crunchy center vein
Taste is: bitter and succulent
This lettuce is used in a Caesar salad, or great for a taco salad


Spinach (pictured above)

Leaves are: tender, dark green, and sometimes wrinkled, sometimes smooth
Taste is: slightly bitter and somewhat hearty

Tat Soi (pictured above)

Also known as: spoon cabbage or baby bok choy
Leaves are: spoon shaped
Taste is: peppery

Watercress (pictured above)

Leaves are: small and dark-green on long stems
Taste is: strong and peppery
This sounds amazing: avocado and watercress salad with a soy-apple dressing

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Blanching Vegetables

posted in Vegetables and Beans by Kathy Maister

Blanching vegetables means to plunge them quickly into boiling water – for just a minute or two – then immediately stick the vegetables into a bowl of ice water (often referred to as an ice bath). If you are serving cooked vegetables cold, this technique will ensure that they will maintain their beautiful colors.

I am going to demonstrate how to do this using asparagus. The same method would work for green beans, yellow beans, broccoli, carrots, and many other vegetables as well.

Wash and trim the asparagus. (This link will also show you how to wash, trim and How to Cook Asparagus.)

I always blanch (and cook) asparagus in a frying pan. The spears fit better and they cook more evenly in a frying pan. Start by boiling a kettle of cold water and then pouring it into the frying pan.

Bring the water in the frying pan to a boil and add about one Tablespoon of salt to the water.

Using a pair of tongs, carefully add the asparagus to the pan.

Set the timer for 2 minutes. It may take a bit more or less time depending on the thickness of your asparagus. After 2 minutes, run one spear under cold water and then taste it to see if it is cooked to your liking. If you cook green vegetable too long they will turn a very “muddy’ green color (YUK!).

Have your “ice bath” (which is just a bowl of icy cold water) and a clean dish towel ready for when the timer goes off.

Using a pair of tongs, lift the asparagus out of the boiling water and put it directly into the ice bath.

This totally stops the cooking process, and the color stays that nice bright green. After a minute or two, lift the asparagus out of the icy water and onto a clean dish towel to drain.

If you are cooking more green vegetables, you can use the same boiling water that you cooked the asparagus in to cook the other vegetables.

Green beans will only take about 1 minute and 30 seconds to blanch.

For a change of pace try blanching some vegetables when you serve your next Vegetable and Dip Platter (video).

Enjoy!

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Washing Lettuce

posted in Vegetables and Beans by Kathy Maister

When making a salad, lettuce is usually one of the main ingredients.

What you need to know about lettuce is mostly how to wash it and to make sure that it’s edible and attractive.

If you are unsure what type of lettuce to buy, check out my post “Salad Greens From A to Z”.

The lettuce you buy from the supermarket may or not be packaged in some way, but it came from the ground and you can’t just start eating it, unless you’ve bought the pre-washed kind.

When grocery stores started selling pre-washed lettuce I thought it was brilliant, until I bought a bag. I discovered that if I didn’t use it within a day or two it was history (with a bit of a slimy edge). Granted, when I used it immediately, it was a huge time-saver. But, if you know how, it really only takes about 4 minutes to wash, dry and store lettuce.

Knowing how to wash and store lettuce (and other “salad greens”) is not that big of a mystery, particularly if you have a salad spinner. And I do recommend that you get one. They are relatively cheap and they make washing lettuce a snap.

Salad spinners cost about $25. If you eat a lot of salad it is well worth the investment.

However, let’s begin with the “but I don’t have a salad spinner” approach.

First, cut the head of lettuce away from its root with a knife. (You can also just do this with your hands – the root should break off easily.) Then, separate the leaves.

To wash iceberg lettuce first remove the core with a paring knife.

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Then break it apart with your hands. (Some heads of iceberg are much firmer than others!)

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Fill a large bowl with cool water and gently place the lettuce leaves in the bowl giving them a gentle swish as you drop them in the bowl.

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After about 30 seconds of floating in the water the sand or dirt will sink to the bottom. Gently shake the water off each leaf and place them one at a time on paper towels or a clean dish towel. Blot the lettuce dry with some more paper towels.

OK, that’s the manual way. Now let’s use the salad spinner.

A salad spinner is a great little tool for both washing the lettuce and getting the excess water off. It comes in three parts – the bowl, the colander (the bowl with the holes in it) and the lid.

You begin the same way by cutting off the root and separating the leaves. But now, you place the leaves inside the colander, which is sitting inside the bowl.

Fill the spinner with water. All the sand on the lettuce leaves should sink to the bottom.

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Lift the colander (with the lettuce in it) out of the bowl, pour away the water, and then replace the colander in the bowl. Finally, put the lid on.

Now you can spin the lettuce by turning the handle. The spinning action will force the water off the lettuce, and help it to dry.

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Storing lettuce

If you’re not going to use the whole head of lettuce, then lay out the washed leaves on paper towels…

… and roll them up and put them in a plastic bag.

To save money, you can use the plastic bags from the produce section of the grocery store.

When lettuce is washed and properly stored, it stays fresh in the refrigerator for about 5 to 6 days. However, note that lettuce that you’ve washed yourself and stored properly will last longer then pre-washed lettuce.

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