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Far from the shrink-wrapped iceberg lettuce we all know so well—almost perfectly round, extremely crunchy, almost all water, and able to last a preternaturally long time after harvest—most of us now face a choice of lettuce varieties and salad greens when we go to the market, particularly if we shop at farmers markets.
When Is Lettuce In Season?
In general, salad greens are cool weather crops, at their best in spring and early summer before high heats and long days make them bolt and turn bitter.... Look for lettuce year-round in ultra-temperate climates, fall and spring in mainly temperate areas, and in the late spring through the summer months in cooler climates.
Learn MoreContinue to 2 of 17 below.
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Arugula (a.k.a. rocket) has long, spiked, dark green leaves and a peppery flavor. Wild-harvested arugula is the most pungent (look for it at farmers markets and local foods co-ops). Cultivated arugula is widely available and varies greatly in strength of flavor. In general, larger leaves tend to be stronger tasting, but if pungency is a concern, be sure to taste the batch before using.
Use arugula alone to stand up to tangy dressings (like Lemon Garlic Vinaigrette) and bold flavors, or mixed with... other lettuces as an accent note. Arugula is also a great way to add a kick to hearty dishes like Chicken With Bread Salad and Arugula.Continue to 3 of 17 below.
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Batavia Lettuce (a.k.a. French Crisp or Summer Crisp)
As one of its other names would suggest, Batavia lettuce is more tolerant of warmer weather than many salad greens. It stays crisp and doesn't bolt (and turn bitter) as easily as other lettuces, so is a favorite with summer gardeners who want to keep themselves in lettuce all season long.
Like many varieties of lettuce, Batavia comes with all green or red-tinted leaves. There isn't a taste difference between the two, so choose whichever will look best on your table.Continue to 4 of 17 below.
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These tight, compact heads are packed with flavor and crunch. While my favorite way to eat endive may be slowly and carefully braised to caramelized brown perfection, endive adds a solid crunch to any salad, whether on their own as in this Endive Kumquat Salad, or mixed with other greens. They tend to have a bit of a bitter edge, so known your audience or use them sparingly with other salad greens.
Since most Belgian endive is now grown indoors (it used to be grown buried in sand to keep the... leaves white), it's a great option come dead of winter when you're craving that satisfying fresh-leaf crunch.Continue to 5 of 17 below.
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Butter lettuce is commonly available. It is a crisp-head lettuce, meaning its leaves form a compact head as it grows – although its head is much less compact than iceberg lettuce. Butter lettuce has a tender texture and large, cupped leaves that work beautifully in salads, especially with delicate dressings like Buttermilk Dill Salad Dressing or in Asparagus Butter Lettuce Salad. Look for pale green and red-tinged (pictured) varieties.Continue to 6 of 17 below.
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Bright and peppery, young and tender chrysanthemum greens are a tasty addition to salads. They are the green fronds from the chrysanthemum plant that grows the popular flowers, which are more commonly known as mums in some areas. They need to be young for the best flavor raw—larger, older greens will take on a bitter edge that gets tamed by cooking.
Learn more About Chrysanthemum Greens here.Continue to 7 of 17 below.
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Some people would say I'm stretching things by including dandelion greens here, but there are people (like me!) who relish the sharp, bitter hit of raw dandelion. Some prefer to blanch and braise this dark leaf to tame its intense flavor, but it's also possible to match it with strong acidic and/or pungent dressings.
Look for small, tender greens—especially if you plan to use them raw.
Learn more About Dandelion Greens here (including how to cook them).Continue to 8 of 17 below.
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Frisée (Curly Endive)
This twisted, curly, frizzled green is an endive, and has all the bright bitterness and delicious crunch that goes along with that family of greens. It is best known as the base for a classic French bistro salad that includes bacon and a poached egg on top—give it a try with this recipe.Continue to 9 of 17 below.
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Little Gems Lettuce
Little Gem lettuce is soft with just a hint of crunch. The delicate flavor is well suited to light vinaigrettes (Ginger Vinaigrette is lovely) and lemony dressings. Little Gems are especially delicious with thinly sliced radishes or spears of gently steamed asparagus.Continue to 10 of 17 below.
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Mâche (a.k.a. Lambs' Lettuce)
Mâche, also known as corn salad or lamb's lettuce, comes in lovely little rosettes of dark green leaves attached in groups of 4 or 5 at the roots. It has a bit more body than many lettuces and mixes well with other vegetables.
It requires extra care when cleaning, since sand and grit tend to gather in nub of roots holding each rosette together. Give it a few extra swishes in the water to get them clean. I find a Shallot Vinaigrette brings out the best in mâche.Continue to 11 of 17 below.
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Mesclun (Spring Mix)
Mesclun means "mixed" in Provencal and is traditionally composed of several varieties of wild-harvested, young greens. Most mesclun sold today is cultivated--planted as beds of mixed lettuce seeds harvested when the leaves reach the desired size of 3 to 6 inches). Look for mixes that contain young, sweet leaves from a variety of tender lettuces, maybe a bit of curly endive for texture, some peppery watercress or arugula for bite, and maybe a few herbs.
Some farms and markets sell special... "spicy" mixtures that have more arugula, watercress, mizuna, and mustard leaves. I love mesclun with a Classic French Vinaigrette, but it's a forgiving mix that works well with a wide range of dressings.Continue to 12 of 17 below.
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Mizuna is an Asian variety of mustard greens. It has spiky dark green leaves that have a surprisingly delicate texture and delightfully peppery, even spicy kick. Try it a light vinaigrette or this Sesame Seed Dressing.Continue to 13 of 17 below.
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Oak Leaf Lettuce
As with Batavia lettuce, there are several varieties of oak leaf lettuce – green, red, bronze – but they are all loose-leaf lettuces, meaning the leaves stay loose and attached only at the base as they grow instead of forming tight, compact heads like iceberg lettuce or cabbage. They make excellent salads and work with a wide range of dressings. Discard the external leaves if they are damaged or wilted. If working with small heads, use the leaves whole. Larger leaves can be torn into bite-sized... pieces when cleaning.Continue to 14 of 17 below.
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Purslane is often foraged. That is, it grows wild and people pick it in meadows and parks. I've been seeing it more and more at farmers markets and specialty stores, too. Purslane has thick, somewhat almost spongy leaves and works well with delicate herb-laced dressings or something bright like this Lemon Parsley Dressing.Continue to 15 of 17 below.
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Romaine lettuce is hale and hearty. Its crunchy texture can stand up to any dressing - from a light gingery vinaigrette to a full-blown thick and creamy Blue Cheese Dressing. You can even grill it.Continue to 16 of 17 below.
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Of course, you can chop up brilliant magenta radicchio or its longer, leaner cousin, treviso, to put in salads, but speckled radicchio is a real beauty, looks and acts a bit more like "regular" lettuce with its leafier leaves and primarily green color. Plus, it has a softer, less bitter, flavor than its redder cousins.Continue to 17 of 17 below.
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Watercress has a bright, peppery flavor prized for salads and gently "wilted" preparations. 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 slightly less bite and crunch than its watercress cousin.
Whatever cress we're talking about, they're all members of the mustard family. The older they get, the sharper their flavor becomes. Use cress as soon as... possible, removing any yellowed or wilted leaves. Tender stalks and roots are perfectly edible along with the dark green leaves. Try this Feta Vinaigrette or Yogurt Buttermilk Dressing with it.