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Going Green: All About Leafy Greens and Lettuces
Profiles of Leafy Greens & Lettuces
Nutrition, Descriptions, Easy Preparation TipsBy Vicki McClure Davidson
Leafy greens are good anytime, anywhere.
California is the leading lettuce growing state in the United States. About 25 percent of all varieties of lettuce grown in the United States are used to fill up those fresh-cut or bagged salads.
There are so many varieties of nutritious, edible leafy greens and lettuces that weren't available in neighborhood supermarkets or corner grocers a decade ago. Leafy greens are economical not only because of their vitamin and mineral content, but because of their limited to non-existent waste. No bones to remove and toss, no tough skin to peel, no pits or seeds to scrape out. Very time/labor-friendly for home cooks who have hectic schedules.
Leafy greens and lettuces, when in season, are extremely cheap to buy. "In season" is important to note. Anything bought out of season will cost dearly, so to be frugal, take advantage of their growing season and use substitutes when necessary during the off seasons.
If you're not familiar with all the "greenie" varieties available, the list below links to leafy greens information and photographs in Frugal Café. This list is by no means yet complete, so check back to see new additions. An ongoing work of love here.
Leafy Greens and Lettuces Directory
|Baby Beet Greens||Mâche|
|Iceberg Lettuce||Turnip Greens|
Characteristics: Possibly the most well-known variety of salad green these days, arugula forms the basis of many salads. Originating from the Mediterranean, this rich green tastes more peppery than bitter and is associated with a number of Italian dishes, including pesto. You can substitute watercress for a similar peppery flavor. You can also use fresh baby spinach (but the flavor will not be the same). Dandelion greens can also be used as substitute in recipes, although they are a bit more bitter than arugula. The edges of baby arugula are not as defined as the leaves when they are more mature. In Italy, it is commonly contrasted with red chicory and pale lettuces.
When purchasing, avoid bunches that are bruised or waterlogged. It is very perishable, so don't buy too much in advance of use. Arugula can be cooked as a vegetable with pastas or meats. They are loaded with sand, so when preparing, be sure to rinse thoroughly; for best results, cut off the roots, swish the leaves in plenty of lukewarm water, let stand a bit, then gently lift the arugula greens out so that sand is left at the bottom. Repeat as needed, then blot or spin dry.
In Italy, arugula is used in pizzas. An arugula sauce can be made much like creamed spinach. Arugula is a cruciferous vegetable, so it is in the same family as broccoli and cabbage. Arugula has been grown in the Mediterranean area since the Roman days and is considered by some to be an aphrodisiac. It is low in fat and high in vitamins A and C. A half-cup serving has a whopping 2 calories.
Characteristics: The leaves of the beet top are best-tasting when they are immature; when beet greens are young, they are tender and slightly spicy. The purplish-red veins are visually striking and can dress up any salad. When wilted, the veins become brighter in color and sweeter. Beet greens can be steamed, braised, or sautéed, or eaten raw in salads. They will keep in the refrigerator for about a week.Here is an easy cooking method for beet greens, from Delicious Organics:
The greens need to be simmered (covered) in water or chicken stock for about 20 minutes until the reach the desired tenderness. I first sauté some red onion and garlic, then add the chopped up tops (they wilt down like spinach). Then add 1/2 cup of water or chicken stock. Cover and simmer. I add about a tablespoon of orange juice to it toward the end, salt & pepper to taste. Remember that Swiss Chard is a member of the Beet family, so cook it as you would that vegetable. I use the beet greens in a stir fry with some soy sauce much like a cabbage. It is great this way and adds a nice color.
Beet greens are very low in saturated fat and cholesterol. They are also a good source of protein, folate, pantothenic acid, phosphorus and zinc, and a very good source of dietary fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E (Alpha Tocopherol), Vitamin K, thiamine, riboflavin, Vitamin B6, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, copper, and manganese. They also contain betacyanin, which is an antioxidant. The percent daily values for vitamins in beet greens is remarkably high: 220 percent for Vitamin A, 60 percent for Vitamin C, and 871 percent (that's not a typo) for Vitamin K.
Be aware that sodium levels in beet greens are higher than that of other greens.
A recipe using beet greens to try is posted at New York Times: Black Rice & Arborio Risotto with Beets & Beet Greens.
Another delicious, inexpensive beet green dish is Beet Green 'Spanakopita' — check out the recipe posted at Frugal Café Blog Zone's weekly Fab Food Friday Fotos edition. It's a variation of Greek spinach triangles, substituting beet greens for the spinach.
Characteristics: A type of head lettuce, the leaves of Boston and bibb lettuces are soft. As this variety's name implies, the texture of a butterhead lettuce is tender and smooth like butter. Bibb lettuce is the more expensive of the two and is usually sold in a plastic container to protect the delicate leaves. Boston and bibb lettuces are perfect as a bed on a plate or platter to hold or display other salad ingredients. Its wide leaves can be used to wrap whipped goat cheese or fresh cheese such as ricotta or cottage cheese that's been seasoned with herbs or minced garlic. It is a perfect addition to any salad.
While similar, Boston's leaves are wider and a lighter green color than Bibb's. Butterhead lettuce originated in the Mediterranean basin, with new varieties developed more recently in the United States.
Butterhead lettuce is very fragile and its leaves wilt quickly. Store in a perforated bag in the vegetable crisper of the refrigerator. Don't rinse with water until the last minute before serving, or the leaves will start to disintegrate. Butterhead lettuces are low in calories and rich in calcium, potassium, magnesium, sodium, and vitamins A, B, C, and K.
Characteristics: Watercress is the most popular type of cress sold in the United States. Other varieties include upland cress, curly cress, and land cress. A peppery, slightly bitter taste is characteristic of all cress varieties. Sold in bunches, watercress has a tough, fibrous stem and small green leaves. It is fragile and will last in the crisper for only a few days. To keep it longer, place the cress stems in a glass of water. Be sure to wash cress thoroughly when preparing, since they often grow in sandy ground. It can be chopped and used like parsley in soups, salads, quiches, and on grilled potatoes. One bunch will yield about 2 cups chopped cress. In recipes, arugula can be used as a substitute for cress. The texture of cress is best during the warmer seasons, although it is available during the winter.
Watercress is common throughout most of Europe, but not in the Scottish Highlands or Central Wales. There is evidence that it has been in use as a medicinal herb since the first century, although cultivation on a commercial scale did not start until the early 1800s. Watercress contains iron, iodine, copper, calcium, and potassium and is a well-known and rich source of Vitamin C.
Name Origin: The greens of the dandelion are deeply toothed, giving the plant its name in Old French: dent-de-lion means "lion's tooth" in Old French.
Characteristics: Dandelion greens, or leaves, are individually up to 10 inches long and 2-1/2 inches across. The outer green bracts curve sharply downward from the flowerheads. The typical basal leaf is broader toward its outer tip than at the base (oblanceolate) in outline, although it is more or less lobed along its length. These lobes are triangular and the margins are slightly wavy and irregular. Regarded by most people as an unwanted weed, dandelion greens are powerhouses of nutrition and are as pleasantly tasty as most other greens. It grows wild and rampant in most parts of the United States and other countries — ounce for ounce, dandelion greens are among the most frugal, nutritional vegetable bargains out there.
In fact, all parts of the dandelion are edible, including the dandelion root. The root can be roasted and used as a brewed coffee substitute. It can be boiled and stir-fried as a cooked vegetable (be sure to scrub it well to remove all dirt particles).
The dandelion flower can be made into dandelion wine, or be sautéed, boiled, or stir-fried as a cooked vegetable. Collect them before mid-spring, when the most flowers bloom. Some continue to flower right into the fall. Use only the flower's yellow parts, as the green sepals at the flower base are quite bitter.
Dandelion greens can be gently boiled or sautéed in olive oil like spinach and used as a cooked vegetable that can be mixed into soups, stews, casseroles, stir fries, or served as a vegetable side dish. Diced and sautéed with onion and garlic, they can be added to cooked white rice for a change of pace. Greens can also be served raw in sandwiches or eaten as a mixed greens salad. Dandelion greens taste like many other salad greens with a bit of a sharp kick, much like chicory and escarole. The greens can be used as a substitute for arugula or spinach in recipes.
Should you harvest late in the season and want to eat dandelion greens that are older and more bitter, you can boil out much of the bitterness by boiling in two changes of salted water. However, you'll lose much of the water-soluble vitamins. The best time to harvest dandelion greens is in early spring when they are young, just emerging, and before the flowers appear. That's when they are the most tender and least bitter. Once the flower appears, the greens become tough and more bitter, although still edible. After the first frost in fall is another time when dandelion greens aren't so bitter. Boiling them further reduces their bitterness. If introducing dandelion greens for the first time to your family (kids are often so finicky), you can try cooking them with sweet root vegetables, such as sliced carrots and/or parsnips. This will tone down the slight bitterness. Increase the greens quantity each time you serve them — eventually, you shouldn't have to serve dandelion greens mixed with other vegetables.
If harvesting your own dandelion greens, you can save money by pulling them out of lawns. Why pay extra at the grocery store to purchase foods with similar (or, often, inferior) nutritional value, when you have a free source in your yard? Avoid harvesting near roads, since road salt and/or toxins may be present. Caution: Be sure you don't harvest from a lawn where herbicides have been used.
Health benefits of dandelion greens are impressive. They've been used medicinally for centuries. Dandelion greens have been used to treat and prevent breast and lung tumors and premenstrual bloating, and are used as an aid in digestion. They have been used as an antiviral that may be useful in the treatment of AIDS and herpes. They are useful in treating acne, eczema, jaundice, cirrhosis, gout, and edema resulting from high blood pressure. Dandelion greens are high in antitoxins and are chock-full of vitamins A, C, and K, calcium, iron, and potassium. They're higher in beta-carotene than carrots. They contain the antioxidant lutein, which is important for healthy vision. Dandelions are also natural diuretics and detoxifiers.
Characteristics: Endive leaves have a unique oval shape with a soft, satiny texture. They have a slight bitterness which enhances any salad or can be lightly braised or sautéed and served with light-flavored cooked meats, such as chicken breasts, pork, veal, freshwater fish, or scallops. The scooplike shape of the leaves makes them excellent as edible servers, perfect as "spoons" for small appetizers, holding soft cheeses or tuna mixed with a touch of olive oil.
Endive is grown in dark conditions such as barrels or boxes, causing the endive to grow in elongated small heads that are light green to white in color. The leaves can be separated and eaten (they can be used to create an attractive platter) or the endive leaves can the chopped or sliced for salads. Radicchio or arugula can be substituted in recipes, although radicchio is more bitter and arugula does not have the same crispness. Endive is rich in many vitamins and minerals, especially in folate and vitamins A and K, and is high in fiber. It is low in sodium and calories, has trace amounts of beta-carotene, and contains no cholesterol.
A medium head will yield about 10 to 16 leaves. Do not cook endive in cast iron—it will blacken the leaves. To prepare endive, rinse the leaves quickly in cold water. Soaking will increase its bitterness. To store endive, wrap the vegetable in a damp paper towel and refrigerate up to five days. Longer storage increases its bitterness. During storage, check on it daily and remove any brown leaves; then pat dry, rewrap so that the heads are covered, and refrigerate.
Characteristics: Related to frisée, this mildly bitter leafy green is large and crisp. Escarole is popular in Italian dishes and is often used in soups and paired with beans. Escarole leaves have irregular, frilled edges. To prepare escarole, cut out the core of each head, then cut the leaves into bite-sized pieces. Rinse the leaves several times in cold water until all the dirt has been rinsed off.
If you plan on sautéing escarole, first drain it of as much liquid as possible. In addition to salads, escarole can be served as a side vegetable with your favorite entrée;. It works well with fish, beef, or pasta with a hearty tomato sauce. Escarole cooks quickly and is finished once it is tender, about 5 to 6 minutes.
Characteristics: These wide, long, curled leaves of frisée are either tinged with yellow and green or in shades of green or sometimes red, or simply edged with red. The leaves are slightly bitter and nutty in taste, have a crunchy stem, and add a lot of texture to salads. Frisée lettuce is fragile and does not tolerate freezing. Likewise, do not add a dressing to it until just before serving, since vinegar will quickly make the fragile leaves wilt. Frisée is closely related to escarole.
When preparing frisée, never cut it with a knife, but rather, tear it into pieces by hand. You can revive limp frisée lettuce by sticking it first into lukewarm water and then into ice water to shock it.
When storing frisée, be aware that tightly closed packaging does not allow the lettuce to breathe and will make it rot faster. Be sure that air can circulate around the leaves when it is in the refrigerator. Frisée lettuce is low in calories and high in water and vitamins A, B, C, and E.
Characteristics: A rather coarse leafy vegetable, a sort of non-heading cabbage that is in the Brassica family, so it is related to cabbage, collards, and Brussels sprouts, which are descendants of the wild cabbage.
Purchase kale when the leaves are young, very firm, and show no signs of yellowing. If possible, use the greens the same day, since like many leafy vegetables, flavor and nutritional value is lost quickly as the vegetable loses freshness. It should be stored in a cool environment since warm temperatures will cause it to wilt and will negatively affect its flavor. Kale has a sweeter taste when picked in the spring.
There are several varieties of kale: curly kale (deep green ruffled leaves, earthy, peppery flavor), ornamental kale (also called salad savoy, more tender and mild flavored), and dinosaur kale (dark blue-green leaves, delicate flavor), all of which differ in taste, texture, and appearance. It is easy to grow in home gardens and can grow in colder temperatures where a light frost will produce especially sweet kale leaves. Some frost actually improves the flavor of kale.
To prepare, tear off the crisp leaves from their thickened heavy stalks, discarding the stalks, which are generally too fibrous to be good eating. Quickly wash the kale in cool water, dislodging any dirt or sand; don't let it become waterlogged. Prolonged soaking of kale should be avoided. Thoroughly drain it. When preparing, try to avoid cutting it with a knife, but rather, tear it into pieces by hand to preserve its nutritional content.
There are several methods for cooking. Kale can be boiled in salted water with a few strips of bacon or with a few tablespoons of bacon fat until tender and then drained and topped with a light cream sauce or cheese sauce, if desired.
Another method of cooking in water is to boil the kale in a 2:1 ratio of water and vinegar until the leaves turn bright green. Don't overcook. Wine or chicken or beef stock can also be used with a small amount of chopped garlic or vinegar. When the kale turns bright green, drain and serve.
To sauté kale, lightly toss it in a heated skillet with a bit of oil and crushed garlic until it's wilted, then sprinkle with some olive oil and lemon juice just before serving. Kale is excellent when used in stir fry, soups, casseroles, sauces, and served as a side dish to fish and Southern-style dishes. Kale is a favorite in southern United States kitchens. When steamed, it can be used as a topping for homemade pizza. Kale can replace spinach in many recipes or can be used raw in salads.
Kale is one of the very best vegetables for nutritional value out there... it is high in antioxidants, low in calories (about 36 calories per serving), low in saturated fat and cholesterol, has a humungous amount of vitamins and minerals, as well as protein and calcium — kale is high in vitamin K (1328% daily value), vitamin A (192% DV), vitamin C (89% DV), and manganese (27% DV). It is embraced by vegetarians and healthy-eating advocates for its abundant antioxidant properties.
Characteristics: Because of its tight leaf formation and compact shape, iceberg lettuce keeps much longer than other traditional varieties of lettuce when stored in the vegetable crisper of the refrigerator. Iceberg is a favorite addition to salads and sandwiches because of its satisfying crunchy texture. This head lettuce acquired the nickname "iceberg" because it is hardy and can withstand mild cold. It is the second single most popular vegetable in the United States, second only to potatoes.
Decades back, it was covered with ice so that it could be transported to market; in many regions, it was the only variety of lettuce that was available throughout the year. Its cultivation dates back to ancient Egypt. In recipes, romaine or butter lettuce can be substituted, although butter lettuce is softer and not crunchy like iceberg.
One medium head of iceberg will yield about 4 cups shredded or 6 to 8 cups torn. Iceberg lettuce is rich in calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, vitamins A, B, C, E, and K. It is fat- and cholesterol-free. However, although its caloric content is similar or lower, iceberg letucce's nutritional content is less than other lettuces, such as Romaine. Strangely, iceberg is the only variety of lettuce that doesn't have a red variety.
Iceberg lettuce has a high water content and while it can withstand mild cold, does not handle freezing well. When thawed, frozen iceberg becomes mushy and unappetizing, so never freeze it. Tear the leaves into pieces by hand rather than cutting them with a knife and don't serve iceberg in a metal container. Contact with metal makes iceberg lettuce leaves quickly turn brown where the metal has touched them. Its stiff texture adds variety to mixed greens in salads or as a bed for other salad ingredients. This type of lettuce is an excellent choice for making a classic Greek salad with tomatoes, radishes, and cucumbers. It's one-third of the required ingredients in a classic BLT (bacon, lettuce, tomato) sandwich. Its mild flavor doesn't compete with other greens or ingredients, such as in lettuce wraps or as an addition, when shredded, to Mexican foods like tacos or tostadas.
Characteristics: Looseleaf lettuce has a mild flavor and the leaves are very pliable, despite the crunchy stem, while being sturdy and hardy. Their uneven ruffled surfaces add layers of texture to salads and sandwiches. The leaves on a head of looseleaf lettuce are not formed into a compact head, but rather, are arranged around a central stalk like a loose rosette. They tend to be slightly curly, with firm central ribs. In slightly older lettuce, the leaves will splay out, while younger lettuces may be more upright. The flavor of looseleaf lettuce is mild and sometimes a bit sweet, with a hint of butter; red looseleaf lettuce can also be a bit spicy.
Because the leaves are so large, tear them up by hand into bite-size pieces.
From frugal chef Jeff Smith's bestselling cookbook, The Frugal Gourmet: "We're lucky our markets carry so many greens the year around. There are butter lettuce, romaine, endive, and the common iceberg. All these are good, but I prefer the beautiful red leaf. It is tender, light in flavor, and colorful. But it does not keep as well as the old iceberg, so be careful with it."
Characteristics: Pronounced "mahsh," mâche is sometimes sold with roots and soil still attached. This salad green imparts a mild and slightly sweet, nutty flavor to a salad. It offers a nice contrast in salads that may have an abundance of more bitter, more peppery greens. It works well, with its softer texture and subtle flavor, in combination with crunchier, more robust greens. Because of the small size of the leaves, trying to create a salad with a base of mâche can be very expensive. The mâche leaves, which grow in a basal rosette, are extremely delicate and bruise easily, so handle carefully.
Due to its delicacy, mâche will age quickly after being picked, even if stored immediately in the fridge after you return from the supermarket. A suggestion to prolong the life of mâche is to stick the stem ends into a glass of water and cover the glass and leaves loosely in plastic before storing in the refrigerator. This will give you at least one extra day of storage.
Mâche is a cool weather crop that grows wild in parts of Europe, northern Africa, and western Asia. In Europe and Asia, it is a pesky, common weed. Just starting to become popular in the United States, mâche is nutrient-rich. It has three times as much vitamin C as lettuce, and has loads of beta-carotene, B6, B9, vitamin E, and folic acid. It's high in omega-3 fatty acids. If you grow your own mâche, harvest it by pinching off individual leaves and the plants will keep producing more.
Mâche complements stronger flavored greens like arugula, endive, chicory, cress, and the more bitter lettuces in tossed salads. It can be used in mayonnaise-based salads, like potato, egg, or macaroni, and in omelettes. The tender leaves are delicious with crisp salad vegetables like bell peppers, carrots, and radishes. The small, cup-shaped leaves of many of the cultivars catch and hold salad dressings well. Mâche is a popular tossed salad ingredient in Europe, and is slowly becoming popular in trendy North American upscale restaurants.
Characteristics: This decorative Japanese mustard green is typically sold as part of a pre-made salad mix, like mesclun, but can be purchased loose at the farmers' market or food specialty shops. Mizuna has a relatively earthy, nutty flavor when compared to other salad greens, but its tangy flavor won't unduly overpower a dish. Mizuna has pointy leaves similar to dandelion leaves, with small jagged edges making them look a bit like miniature oak leaves, and they add a lot of texture to salads.
It is also used in stir fries, soups, and nabemono (a term referring to all varieties of Japanese steamboat dishes, also known as one pot dishes; these are usually stews and soups served during the colder seasons). The greens can be lightly sautéed and added to meat dishes or sauces.
If you're thinking of growing mizuna in your home garden, it is indigenous to Japan and is a very hardy plant. Mizuna is heat- and cold-tolerant and thrives in wetter regions with lots of rainy weather. It has a fast growing season: 2 to 5 weeks after planting, the mizuna heads (called rosettes), are ready for harvest. One plant can usually produce as many as five harvests during a 10-month growth cycle.
To store mizuna, place the greens in a plastic bag; keep in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator. Do not wash the leaves until you are ready to use them; then, rinse them briefly in cold water. For optimum flavor and texture, use the greens within 3 to 5 days.
Mizuna is used frequently in Asian dishes. If necessary to substitute another green for a recipe, you can use watercress, baby spinach leaves, mustard greens, or kale. It can be eaten raw or cooked, and it is packed with nutrients such as carotenes, folic acid, and vitamin C.
Alternate Names: Leaf mustard, Indian mustard, mustard, brown mustard
Characteristics: In the cabbage family, mustard greens come in many varieties, and because of this, can have either smooth, oval leaves or frilled, elongated leaves. Others have toothed leaves. Asian varieties are sometimes purple with white veins. They are related to broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts.
Mustard greens have been cultivated in Asia and Europe for thousands of years — they are one of the easiest vegetables to grow, and they grow quickly. They have a long harvesting season. Although they are available throughout the year, mustard greens are in season from December through April, when they are at their best and most readily available.
In Europe and the United States, mustard greens are usually cooked as a potherb, like spinach, or are eaten raw in salads. Mustard greens are tangier than spinach, kale, and collards, and have a sharp, peppery flavor that can be enhanced with a sweet, mild vinegar. One easy method of cooking involves mixing milder collards and kale with sharper turnip greens and mustard greens, then cooking them all in a steamer over boiling water. They can be served with salt and pepper and a touch of butter, or with a spicy chile pepper vinegar. A favorite side dish in the Southern United States, home cooks there usually boil mustard greens with ham, salt pork, and/or bacon. They are excellent when served with a side of cornbread.
To prepare mustard greens for Southern-style cooking, wash the greens 3 or 4 times in fresh water, draining them each time, to remove all traces of grit. Then strip the leafy part from the stems. In a large pot, fry down 1 pound of fat back, salt pork, thick bacon, or ham chunks until brown. Then add mustard greens to the pot. Stir and fry in the hot fat until the greens start to wilt. Add 2 cups of water and cook until tender. Add more water if necessary. Some people cook mustard greens, turnip greens, and collard greens (sometimes called "a mess of greens") together in one big pot. A spoon of sugar can be added to the water to sweeten the mustard greens. Stir frequently on medium heat, being careful not to burn them. These greens go well with black-eyed peas, ham, and cornbread.
Some of the Asian varities of mustard greens, which are much spicier than American varieties, are pickled (called sajur asin and hum choy). Leaves and stems are also used in stir-fry and added to soups and stews. The seeds are quite pungent and are used to season meats and other dishes. Powdered seeds are used to make brown mustard, like Dijon. An oil made from mustard seeds is used to pickle foods in Kashimiri and Bengali cooking.
Health-wise, mustard greens are impressive. They are considered by many to be an anti-cancer vegetable. Holistically, mustard greens are beneficial for colds, arthritis, or depression. They are an excellent source of three important antioxidants: vitamin E, vitamin C, and vitamin A (through their concentration of beta-carotene). From WHFoods: "These three nutrients team up to scavenge free radicals, which are excessively interactive molecules that not only cause damage to the molecules with which they interact, but have been linked to a host of different diseases and health conditions. Beta-carotene and vitamin E exert their protective actions against free radicals in the lipid-soluble areas of the body, while vitamin C balances out the job by working in the body's water-soluble environment. By providing antioxidant protection in both the water and fat-soluble areas of the body, mustard greens may offer great benefit to individuals with conditions ranging from asthma to heart disease to menopausal symptoms."
Characteristics: The shape of this looseleaf lettuce's leaves are similar to that of the oak tree, which is how it got its name. From a distance, it looks much like red leaf and green leaf lettuce, but a closer look will reveal differences in shape and texture. Oakleaf lettuce leaves are lobed, shorter, more squat, firm, and curly. The leaf tops have a softer texture than their red leaf and green leaf counterparts. This delicate, tender lettuce has a mild flavor and is excellent as a bed for other foods or torn up in a salad. Oakleaf is rich in Vitamins A, B, C, D, E and minerals.
Oakleaf lettuce does not keep for a long time in the refrigerator, three days maximum. It must be stored in the vegetable crisper of the fridge or in a cool, dark place. Suggested ways to serve oakleaf lettuce from the Worldwide Gourmet:
Characteristics: Pronounced "rah-dik-ee-yo," you can find this deep-red-purple vegetable sold either as a compact round head, or shaped like its relative, endive. The bright coloring makes it stand out. It has a mildly bitter and spicy taste, which mellows to a sweetness when it is grilled or roasted. In recipes, endive or chickory can be substituted. The varieties of radicchio are named after the Italian regions where they originate. The most common variety in the United States is radicchio di Chioggia, which is maroon, round, and about the size of a grapefruit. Less common in the US is the radicchio di Treviso, which resembles a large Belgian endive. Other varieties include Tardivo and the white-colored radicchio di Castelfranco. A winter vegetable, both of these radicchio varieties resemble flowers.
The older it gets, the tougher and more bitter radicchio will be, so it is best when harvested at about three months and eaten soon after. In Italy, radicchio is usually eaten grilled in olive oil, or mixed into cooked dishes like risotto. In the United States, while radicchio is becoming more popular, it is rarely cooked. It is more often eaten raw in salads. Radicchio can be stored in the coldest section of the refrigerator for about a week.
When preparing, break off leaves and trim as needed. Rinse and dry, then wrap and chill for salad. Slice radicchio into small pieces as needed, not in advance. To revive and crisp up tired leaves, soak them for 2 or 3 minutes in lukewarm water. Shake dry, then chill in an airtight container until time to serve. A 1-cup serving of shredded radicchio has about 9 calories. It is high in magnesium, potassium, and vitamin A. Raddichio is 70 percent carbohydrate with a small amount of protein and just a trace of fat.
Characteristics: Romaine is a large, leafy lettuce that is stiffer than most lettuces. It has a thick center rib that gives it a real crunch. The rib also gives it a slight bitter taste. Romaine is the standard lettuce used in a Caesar salad and Greek salads. One average head of romaine, when the leaves are torn, will yield about 6 cups of lettuce.
Some linguists have speculated that, because one of romaine's alternative names is "Cos," the lettuce may have originated on an island off the coast of Turkey called Kos. Romaine, however, was grown widely throughout the Middle East before then by the Arabs. The Arabic word for lettuce is "khas," so this is a likelier source of the name "cos."
Compared to most lettuces, romaine is a leader in nutrition. A 1-cup serving has 10 calories, and it has 29 percent of the RDA of Vitamin A, 22.5 percent RDA of Vitamin C, and an impressive 71 percent of Vitamin K. It also offers manganese, Vitamins B1 and B2, folic acid, and trace amounts of protein, among other minerals and vitamins.
While growing, most lettuces are sensitive to heat, but romaine is more tolerant of warmer weather. Romaine lettuce is often used in the Passover Seder as a type of bitter herb to symbolize the bitterness inflicted by the Egyptians while the Israelites were slaves in Egypt. The lettuce has been referred to as "Roman" or "Romaine" lettuce as early as 1577. Most of the domestic US harvest of romaine lettuce comes from California and is available throughout the year. Baby romaine has tender young leaves. Romaine hearts are the most tender leaves of the romaine and can be cooked just like chard. The leaves of the red romaine variety has a pretty red tinge.
Characteristics: Spinach leaves are deep green, alternate, simple, ovate to triangular-based. They vary in size from about 2-30 cm long and 1-15 cm broad. It has a soft, sweet flavor and is rich in minerals and vitamins. In the United States, spinach is eaten raw in salads, steamed or cooked as a vegetable side dish, or added to soups, stews, quiches, pasta, pasta, stir fries, cream sauces, and casseroles. Baby spinach is especially popular as a salad green. Spinach cooks quickly, so it is important to not overcook it. Spinach was the favorite vegetable of Catherine de Medici. When she left her home of Florence, Italy, to marry the king of France, her personal cooks came with her. They could prepare spinach the ways that she especially liked. Since this time, dishes prepared on a bed of spinach are referred to as "a la Florentine."
Spinach ages quickly, so it can be stored in the refrigerator for only about three days before it begins to deteriorate. Spinach is delicious in tossed salads, either by itself or mixed with other leafy greens. You can serve cooked spinach cold, dressed with a vinaigrette. It can replace kale in many recipes.
Prep trick: To remove spinach stems, fold each leaf lengthwise so that the insides touch, then bend back the stem and pull down. It isn't necessary to remove the edible stems, but it is tougher and many people prefer to eat just the spinach leaf.
There are three basic types of spinach:
To cook spinach, here are two different methods that are the best to retain vitamins, flavor, and texture. Method 1: Rinse, then put leaves in a pot with only the water that clings to the leaves. Cover and cook the spinach on very low heat just until the leaves wilt. Method 2: Sauté oil and garlic in a large skillet. Add rinsed, dried spinach leaves. Cover and cook on very low heat just until the leaves wilt. Both methods take only a few minutes. Overcooking will make the spinach stringy and bitter.
Here's a prep tip from America's Test Kitchen on preparing spinach for a warm wilted salad:
Extracted from: America's Test Kitchen newsletter, "Kitchen Tips That Work," March 13, 2009.
Frugal Café Blog Zone: Frugal Celebrity Recipe: Pearl Bailey's Spinach with Oil & Garlic
Characteristics: The small, rounded, dark green leaves of this east Asian salad green are spoonlike and have a mild, mustardlike flavor. Its thick leaves offer a mild flavor with a faint metallic, slightly bitter edge. The soft texture is similar to that of baby spinach, collard greens, or mustard greens; in recipes, any can be substituted for another.
Baby tat soi is usually sold loose and can be used raw in salads, but when mature, tat soi can be purchased whole, in the shape of a rosette. The leaves are tougher and stronger tasting when they're older, so they are usually cooked intact in Chinese and other Asian stir fries or soups, or as a steamed stand-alone vegetable. When the leaves are young and tender, they make an excellent pesto. Tat soi can be mixed with lettuces and other greens when young and tender; drizzle with dressing or vinaigrette. The small leaves cook quickly, so add at the last minute to stir fries. It's important to not overcook. Lightly sautéed, tat soi is excellent mixed with fresh herbs and seasonings. Toss in soups for flavor and texture or use as a garnish. Tat soi also makes an attractive bed for rice dishes. Tat soi may be eaten raw or cooked, but it is prefered cooked. To store the greens, place them in a plastic bag and refrigerate in crisper drawer.
Like mizuna, tat soi is still not common in the United States, and often is available only at the farmers' market or at specialty gourmet or Asian produce shops. This green is slowly becoming popular in spring mix and mesclun mixtures.
Tat soi grows well in cooler temperatures. It is very hardy in cold weather, withstanding cold as low as 15 degrees F, and can be harvested even from under snow. Nutritionally, it is high in beta carotene and Vitamins A, C, and K. Tat soi also has ample amounts of calcium, potassium, phosphorous, and iron.
Characteristics: The greens of turnips are chockful of sharp flavor and vitamins. Smaller leaves are preferred because they are less bitter. They taste very much like mustard greens.
To prepare cooked, boil until the greens are silky as a side dish for southeastern US dishes. When preparing turnip greens for cooking, cut off and discard any tough stems and any discolored leaves. Wash the greens thoroughly and drain well. To reduce the bitter flavor of the cooked greens, pour off the water from the initial boiling and replace it with fresh water. While raw turnip greens are becoming more popular to use in mixed green salads, the majority of Americans still cook them.
Turnip greens are more nutritious than the actual turnip. While turnips are high only in Vitamin C, turnip greens are an excellent source of Vitamin A, folate, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, lutein, and calcium. Turnip greens have 350 percent of the recommended daily intake of Vitamin K and 220 percent Vitamin A. Cooked and drained turnip greens have about 29 calories in a 1-cup serving. For home gardeners, it's good to know that turnip leaves maintain their nutritional quality even after repeated exposure to frost. Turnip seeds, however, do not germinate well in cold soil.
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