DAILY POST JULY 6th:¬† WHAT’S ON YOUR PLATE?
A member of the daisy family, lettuce was brought to this country by Columbus.¬† In a nutshell, all lettuce contains antioxidants and vitamin K, the darker leaves being more nutritionally dense than the lighter ones.¬† The more bitter varieties are also heavier with nutrients.¬† You can see photos of lettuce types at The Cook’s Thesaurus.¬† Here are a few typical varieties that you will¬† see on grocery shelves and green markets:
- CRISPHEAD ICEBERG¬† The least nutrient-dense of all the lettuces and often the least flavorful; will also last the longest in captivity.¬† Characterized by its crisp crunch of all parts of the leaves, it grows in tight heads.
- ROMAINE COS, RED, GREEN¬† Grows in long, upright leaves rather than heads, leaves are crisp, and get darker toward the leaf tips.¬† About half of the leaf is firm and stem-like.¬† Red romaine tends to be more tender than green.
- LOOSELEAF GREEN or RED LEAF, the soft maroon color growing deeper the further it gets from the stem.¬† Leaf lettuce is sweet and soft, growing in short or long leaves rather than heads, and is very flavorful.
- BUTTERHEAD BOSTON, BUTTER & BIBB¬† The head lettuce with buttery softness is also the most fragile.¬† So named because of the light butter color of the inner leaves or the sweet, buttery flavor.¬† This lettuce has almost no crunch, but rather a delicate softness.¬† Use with light salad dressings of more delicate flavors.
Specialty lettuce includes:
- ARUGULA ROQUETTE, ROCKET Short, flat leaves with long stems.¬† Distinct peppery flavor, used with other greens in salads but excellent on sandwiches.
- FIELD GREEN MESCULN, SPRING MIX¬† A mix of many young salad greens, usually dandelion leaves, tat soi, mustard greens, oakleaf, mizuma, etc.
- BITTER GREENS
- BELGIAN ENDIVE¬† Tightly-packed, pointed leaves of yellow and white; crisp in texture.
- ENDIGIA, RED ENDIVE (French) Tightly-packed, pointed leaves of deep purple and white; crisp in texture.
- CURLY ENDIVE, FRIS√ČE¬† Lacy, loose leaf lettuce is green, bitter outer and more mild inner leaves
- CHICORY,¬†¬† Loose green leaves that are hairy-looking and bitter, but add interesting texture and flavor when combined with sweeter greens.
- ESCAROLE¬† Loose green leaves, broad and not as lacy or bitter as chicory.
- RADDICCHIO (Italian)¬† Tightly-packed heads of deep purple leaves going to white towards the center.¬† Bitter, it serves as a color and taste variety when mixed with other greens.¬† Most raddicchio is imported.
Buy lettuce that looks young and tender, discarding tougher outer leaves that serve as natural packaging.¬† Over-matured lettuce will be tough and woody in texture.¬† Avoid dark green leaf edges beginning to decompose (slime).
I don’t recommend buying lettuce in pre-packaged bags because of the risk of bacterial growth.¬† Fresh greens contain lots of moisture, and when condensation forms inside a plastic bag it is a breeding ground for living organisms. Sunlight and air are the best disinfectants, and the best way to avoid bacterial growth.
Wash leaves under cold running water just before use, removing soil from leaf ends closest to the stem.¬† Dry lettuce well before using in a salad; otherwise the dressing will not stick, and will roll off and puddle in the bottom of the salad bowl.¬† Put washed leaves in a wire basket to drain, swing the basket hard to remove water droplets and let air dry a bit.¬† Or use a salad spinner.¬† Tear lettuce before using; never cut with a knife, as the metal will cause the cut edges to turn brown.
Washed lettuce can be stored, but will not keep quite as long as unwashed.¬† Remove any banding before storing; ideally, buy it without.¬† Most lettuce keeps up to a week, heartier leaves longer.¬† Store in an air tight container or in a plastic bag in the vegetable crisper of the refrigerator, away from apples.¬† According to FoodReference.com, the gasses produced by the apples tend to foster brown spots on lettuce.¬† Who knew?¬† If you see condensation forming in the container, unseal allowing air to dry out the contents, before resealing.
Greens that have wilted can sometimes be revived.¬† Rinse with cold water, shake to remove droplets and put in grip-lock storage bag in the refrigerator.¬† If it is going to revive, it will do so within twenty-four hours.¬† Use immediately.
Lettuce is good tossed in salads or as a bed for other foods.¬† Vietnamese wrap lettuce around deep fried spring rolls, providing an insulated holder for the hot appetizer.¬† Is that a good idea, or what?¬† Lettuce is a good way to balance a meat-laden sandwich or burger, providing variety of texture, taste and temperature.¬† The French have been known to cook lettuce by braising or saut√©ing and, spritzed with olive oil, firmer varieties (romaine, raddicchio) can even be cut in half and grilled.