Lettuce and Salad Greens

May 22, 2021

Today’s Main Ingredient is Lettuce and other salad greens!

Host Mikki Uzupes discusses lettuce and salad greens with farmer Greg Swartz and foodie Tannis Kowalchuk of Willow Wisp Organic Farm in Damascus and the incredible variety of flavors in these nutrient packed vegetables. Registered Dietitian Carol Kneier tells us about the important vitamins and minerals they contains.

Lettuce (2996819346)

Growing Lettuce
Lettuce is a cool season plant, grown mostly in spring and fall. It likes cool nights, warm days but not too hot, and it likes just the right amount of rain. If you’re planting lettuce seeds directly in the soil outside in the summer, be aware that the seeds won’t germinate when temperatures climb above 78F degrees. Mulching can help keep the soil temperature cooler and also helps keep down weeds. Start your seeds in the house or in a greenhouse; it takes 4 weeks until the seedlings are ready to transfer outdoors and then 6 weeks until full size head of lettuce is ready to harvest. If you want a continuous crop of lettuce, don’t plant all the seeds at the same time, but plant fewer seeds every week or two to have continuous supply of lettuce.

Healthy Soil…Healthier Plants…Better Taste
A healthy crop is a by-product of healthy soil that has a diverse ecosystem of living organisms (bacteria, fungi, nematodes, arthropods, etc.) creating a cycle of life that releases nutrients that become available to the plant, and the healthier the plant, the more it is able to fend off disease and discourage pests.

Web-only Extras!
There was so much great information from Greg, Tannis and Carol that we put some more together in a bonus reel. Enjoy!

Lettuce Varieties
There are five general types of lettuce:

Iceberg lettuce (IJssla krop)Crisphead – round, tight head lettuce, like Iceberg (pictured)… mild flavor.

Bibb Lettuce (4988502260)Butterhead – loosely formed heads with delicate leaves, like Boston and Bibb lettuce… sweet and tender.

Romaine lettuceRomaine – hearty, crispy lettuce grows in an elongated head… crispy with slightly bitter taste.

Salat Lollo Rosso fcmLoose-leaf – does not form heads; leaves are joined at a stem; varieties include red leaf, green leaf and oak leaf… mild delicate flavor, moderately crisp.

Lettuce (4988502522)Summer Crisp – harvest loose leaves while young or wait until this lettuce forms into a head… sweet and juicy.

Other Salad Greens:

Au marché - salade frisée 2Frisée or Chicory, also called curly endive, features curled leaves tinged green… slightly bitter.

Arugula1Arugala, also called rocket, is a leafy, peppery green that’s a member of the same vegetable family as broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts.

Au marché - mâcheMache, also known as lamb’s lettuce, has small green leaves… a mild and slightly sweet flavor. Leaves are very delicate and bruise easily.

Radicchio Chioggia TorinoRadicchio is a deep-red-purple leafy vegetable that can be found as a compact round head, or shaped like its relative, Belgian endive… slightly bitter flavor when raw, but sweeter when grilled or roasted.

Escarole is a mildly bitter green with large, crisp leaves… Tear it into pieces and add to minestrone soup or a white bean stew. Dress fresh escarole with a garlicky vinaigrette or serve leaves with a creamy dip.

Mesclun is a mix of several varieties of lettuce and young salad greens. Often referred to as “spring mix.” Its baby greens are harvested when the leaves reach the desired size of under three to four inches. Some mixes may include baby herbs, baby beet greens, baby spinach and baby bitter greens, which are not members of the lettuce family.

Belgium Endive is a true lettuce. It forms in a tightly-wrapped, cylindrical head no bigger than your hand. It has a pale-yellow color, a soft satiny texture, and a slightly bitter in taste.

Bitter Greens in Salads
Many bitter greens taste better cooked, but some are increasingly popular, used raw in salads. Bitter greens include dandelion, mustard greens, mizuna, collards and kale. These greens work best in salads when young and tender. Because of their bitter bite, bolder flavors like lemon, garlic and vinegar help to mellow their taste. Try mixing them with other, mild salad greens. Bitter greens are incredibly nutritious.

Note: Kale is a member of the Brassica family like cabbage and broccoli, but chard (aka Swiss chard) is related to the beetroot family. Both kale and chard will be featured in a future episode of “Today’s Main Ingredient.”

Making a Green Salad
Purchasing: The fresher the lettuce the better—just picked is perfect if you have a garden. Second best is buying it at a local farmers market. Look for clean, fresh-looking cut ends. You don’t want anything that looks rusty, dried-out, or wilted. Some spotting or holes are common, especially in crops raised without sprays.

Prep: Wash freshly picked lettuce, then dry it in a salad spinner or in towels. It’s important to dry it because water on the greens dilutes the flavor of the vinaigrette or dressing you use. Tear loose-leaf lettuces into pieces. If you wish, it’s OK to cut head lettuce with a knife.

Storing: If storing it, treat loose-leaf lettuce differently from a head lettuce.
Iceberg lettuce can go right in the refrigerator in a plastic bag. For tight lettuce with a stem, like Romaine, cut off the nub of the stem and store in a tall container with water in the bottom (like you’d treat flowers in a vase) in the refrigerator, if possible.
For loose-leaf lettuces, remove the stem altogether, and wash the leaves submerging them in a large bowl filled with cold water as soon as you bring the lettuce home. Then dry the leaves in a salad spinner of by rolling them up in several layers of paper towels or in a clean kitchen towel, and store in a sealed plastic bag or plastic container (still wrapped in towels) in the “crisper” of your refrigerator. The towels soak up excess moisture, giving the leaves longer life.

Vinaigrette Recipes

How to Make a Basic Vinaigrette
an oil of your choice,
vinegar or citrus juice,
and salt to taste.

Use a ratio of at least 2 parts oil to 1 part vinegar or citrus juice. Many people prefer a ratio of 3:1, and depending on the oil and the vinegar you use and the taste you want to achieve, you can go up to 4 parts oil to 1 part vinegar. Add seasonings. Experiment and taste, taste, taste. Among the most popular oils are olive oil and nut oils (note: refrigerate nut oils to prolong their life; they turn rancid more quickly than other oils). Experiment with different vinegars: red wine, white wine, white distilled, cider, and rice vinegar are popular; fancier (and more expensive) ones include champagne and sherry vinegars.

An emulsion is a mixture of oily and watery liquids. There are two kinds. The first is when oil or fat gets dispersed in water (such as salad dressing, mayonnaise, or milk). The second is when water gets dispersed into fat or oil (such as butter, margarine or chocolate).
To emulsify oil and vinegar in a Mason jar, shake them until totally combined. This is the method Tannis Kowalchuk described in the podcast: “shake, shake, shake.” If you prefer to whisk in a bowl, remember to start with the vinegar and any other seasonings, and then slowly whisk in the oil. Taste as you go, testing for the right balance of oil to vinegar. Once you lose the balance to too much oil, it’s hard to regain the right balance.

1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard (also helps to emulsify the vinaigrette)
minced garlic or shallots, to taste
freshly ground black pepper.

Most vinaigrettes (with the exception of citrus, which lose their sparkling, fresh flavors after a few hours) can be made days ahead and refrigerated in an airtight container. If not using right away strain out any onion-garlic elements you may have used, so they don’t overpower the dressing; without them vinaigrette keeps for weeks. Citrus vinaigrettes go nicely not only with salad greens and crisp vegetables but also with beans, and grain salads.


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More Vinaigrettes:
Honey Balsamic Vinaigrette
3 Tablespoons sherry vinegar
2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup honey, warmed
1 shallot minced (or substitute 1 Tablespoon onion rinsed and squeezed dry several times in cold water)
1 clove garlic (or up to 2 more cloves) minced, to taste
1 Tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2/3 cup pure olive oil

In a medium-sized bowl, mix together vinegars and honey. Stir in onion (or shallot), garlic, pepper and salt. Whisk in the extra-virgin olive oil. Slowly whisk in the pure olive oil. Taste the vinaigrette and correct acid/oil balance, adding more balsamic vinegar or more extra-virgin olive oil as necessary.

Creamy Herb Dressing with Yogurt
2 Tablespoons good quality fancy vinegar, such as tarragon or champagne vinegar
1 shallot minced (or substitute 1 Tablespoon onion rinsed and squeezed dry several times in cold water)
Salt and freshly milled pepper, to taste
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil or walnut oil
2 Tablespoons yogurt, sour cream, or crème fraiche
1 1/2 Tablespoons chopped tarragon
1 Tablespoon chopped parsley
1 Tablespoon snipped chives

Combine vinegar, shallot (or minced onion), and 1/4 teaspoon (or to taste) salt in a bowl and let stand 15 minutes. Whisk in oil and yogurt (or sour cream), then stir in herbs and season with pepper. Taste and correct the balance of oil and vinegar if needed.

Citrus-Honey Vinaigrette – Makes 1/3 Cup
1/2 teaspoon orange zest, minced
2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
1 Tablespoon mild vinegar, such as champagne or natural rice vinegar (do not use seasoned rice vinegar)
1 teaspoon honey
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 Tablespoons olive oil

Combine everything but the oil together in a small bowl; gradually whisk in the oil until emulsified.

Cider Vinaigrette – Makes 1/2 Cup
1/4 apple, peeled, cored and chopped
2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 Tablespoons apple juice or cider
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup olive oil

Place the apple in a blender and add the vinegar, apple juice, and salt and then puree. With the motor running add the olive oil slowly until emulsified.

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Today's Main Ingredient is sponsored in part by:

Greater Pike Community Foundation
Overlook Estate Foundation
Wayne-Pike Farm Bureau

Thanks also to Fertile Valley and Wolfe Spring Farms for their sponsorship of the BoldGold radio station broadcasts.

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