Lettuce & Salad Greens
Lettuce is not one vegetable; it is a collection of leafy vegetables which are not necessarily botanically related. In general, lettuce leaves are mild-flavored and crispy. They are ideally suited for making salads. Iceberg lettuce is the kind popularized in the 1950's. It is very crisp and has no discernable flavor. Its lack of flavor has doomed it to second class status among serious foodies. Romaine is a lettuce That has gained the greatest popularity for it dark green, crisp leaves. This is the lettuce of Caesar salad. It has a mild flavor, and is slightly more durable than iceberg. The leaves of butterleaf lettuces are thinner than romaine; and as the name suggests they have a buttery flavor. They can also be more decorative since some kinds have red tinged leaves. Deertonge lettuce is a butterleaf lettuce that has slightly less fragile leaves, and a bit more flavor.
Arugula is not technically lettuce, but it is arguably the most popular of non-lettuce salad greens because of its peppery-nutty flavor. It is popular enough that almost any good grocery store will have some. And it is pretty durable; so it stays relatively fresh. Radicchio and Frisee are two other salad 'greens' that are not green. The former grows in a small purple head. It's pretty but I find it bitter. And it is so durable that it is almost never very fresh. Frisee is almost white and looks like a leafless tree. Both add interest to a salad. Arguably, sprouts could be considered salad greens. Sprouts are very nutritious, but not everyone fancies them. They can be useful mixed with other things.
Lettuces are typically used in salads and sandwiches. This said, it is possible to find recipes that involve blanching lettuce or cooking it in some other way. We reserve judgement on this ; though our prejudice is that heating lettuce makes it wilt and enhances its bitterness. Neither of these changes we view as improvements.
One area neglected is the use of lettuce leaves to wrap cold finger foods. The simplest idea is to wrap cheese and hummus in a leaf of romaine. One could create a whole line of bread-free sandwiches or 'finger salads' based on this idea.
Copyright S.R. Brubaker 2002 - 2006.