Fresh, tender spring greens, including baby lettuces, are the first signs that the lighter dishes of spring are on their way (and that hearty winter eating is coming to an end). Learn about spring greens below and start looking for them as the days get longer. Then use them in one of these delicious spring salads.
Avoid the horror of gritty salads and be sure to clean your spring greens thoroughly.
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Arugula is a dark green, peppery green that is used both raw and cooked. Wild arugula tend to have more of a kick than the cultivated kind. If the level of peppery kick is important to you, be sure to taste a bit before you buy, if possible, since its flavor ranges from quite mild to rather spicy. Learn more about arugula here.
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Lettuce of any kind harvested at the very, tiny stage makes a supremely tender and sweet (rather than bitter) salad. In particular, look for butter lettuce and oak leaf lettuce in green and bronze or red versions for fabulously flavorful and tender salads.
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Chard comes in Swiss (white ribs), red, golden, and mixed rainbow versions. Each has its own flavor, but an earthy edge defines them all. Chard is usually cooked, but can be chopped up and added to salads raw. In any case, many dishes benefit from cutting the ribs out from the leaves and cooking them separately—see how here Learn more about chard here.
Try this Swiss Chard Gnocchi Casserole and this Chard, Beans, and Barley Soup. Get more chard recipes here.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
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Escarole isn't only grown in the spring, but spring escarole is sweeter and more tender than at other times of year. Escarole is delicious simply cooked, as in this Sautéed Escarole. It is also a fabulous pairing with small spring beets in this Escarole Beet Salad. Look for smooth-leaf and frizzy varieties.
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Pea Shoots or Pea Greens
Pea greens are the vines on which peas would eventually grow. They tend to be available—in giant tangled masses—at farmers markets in spring and early summer when farmers thin their fields. Learn more about pea greens here.
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Spinach is so widely available all year-round, it's easy to forget that the small, tender leaves of spring spinach are a real treat. There is a sweetness to their dark green leaves that is perfect in spinach salads. I love to use them to make this Wilted Spinach Salad and this Spinach Pistachio Pasta. Find more spinach recipes here.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
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Bags of "spring mix salad greens" are often available year-round. Ideally, these mixes are a combination of different baby lettuces along with a bit of arugula, spinach, and/or baby chard.
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Watercress has a bright, peppery flavor prized for salads. It grows wild in streams in Northern America and Europe, but is easily cultivated with the right irrigation. Much cultivated "watercress" is actually garden cress, which has less bite and crunch than true watercress. Whatever cress we're talking about, they're all members of the mustard family. The older they get—either in the ground or after being harvested—the sharper their flavor becomes. Use cress as soon as possible... after its been picked, discarding any yellowed or wilted leaves when you clean it. Note that the tender stalks and roots are perfectly edible along with the dark green leaves.