Salads are a mainstay of summer eating. They are colourful, healthy and the ingredients are often grown locally. When it comes to greens, there are many options these days. Some – arugula and mâche, for example – are wild plants that have now been cultivated. Others, such as mizuna and tatsoi, have an Asian background. The wide variety of greens available, and the countless ways to combine them, mean summer salads need never be boring. Here, some tips on navigating the different greens, and how to get the most from them.
Arugula, also known as rocket or rucola, adds a peppery, nutty taste to salads. Pair it with goat cheese or Parmesan.
Bibb and Boston, known as buttercrunch lettuce, is soft, mild tasting and melt in your mouth. It’s best with a light vinaigrette or for an Asian lettuce wrap.
Belgian endive features a white core with either light green or red edges. Elongated and elegant, it is grown under the ground to keep its pale appearance. It adds crunch to a salad and its slight bitterness is a good counterpoint to assertive ingredients. It also cooks well, especially braised in a little stock with butter and sugar. The leaves make a good receptacle for dips or as a base for an hors d’eouvre.
Frisée – finely curled, frizzy-leaf endive – ranges in colour from whitish yellow to darker green. Use it in an assertive salad with chicken livers or six-minute eggs. It can also be mixed in with other lettuces.
Little Gem is relatively new in Canada and trending everywhere. It looks like a small romaine growing only to 10 to 20 centimetres high and is part of the cos family. With its sweet flavour and crunchy texture, it is great for salads and it makes a good dipper, too. A perfect substitute for romaine.
Mâche, a.k.a. lamb’s lettuce, is a mild field lettuce that works well as a garnish, on its own or as part of a mild salad mix.
Mizuna is a Japanese mustard green with jagged green leaves and a white stalk. It has a stronger taste and is best used as part of a salad mix or to garnish Asian-type dishes.
Oakleaf, which comes in both red and green, is a beautiful lettuce that is mild tasting, with crunchy stems. It also looks wonderful as a table centrepiece instead of flowers.
Radicchio, with its dark burgundy leaves, gives colour, crunch and zest to a salad. It is especially good if you serve it with some strong or melted cheese, which highlights its flavour. Try wrapping some brie or Camembert in puff pastry and baking to serve alongside.
Tatsoi is one of my favourites. It is an Asian green with a spoon-shaped leaf and a mild, mustard-like flavour. It also stir fries well.
Watercress is a member of the nasturtium family. Its distinctive spicy flavour perks up a salad, and it makes an excellent pesto.
For the best dressed salads, tear the leaves into chunks or keep them whole if they are small. Dress salads just before serving to keep them lively and prevent them from becoming limp. Don’t overdress, add a bit at a time. Toss with clean hands for best results. That way you can feel if there is enough dressing.
A summer vinaigrette can be whipped up quickly: Whisk 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard with 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1/4 teaspoon grated lemon zest and ¼ cup olive oil. Season with salt and pepper if desired. Stir in 2 tablespoons chopped herbs, such as tarragon, basil or mint, if desired. If your vinaigrette is too oily, just add salt.
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