Next to drinking a smoothie, eating a salad is one of the best ways to obtain a wide variety of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants in one fell swoop. Salads can be sophisticated, simple, dressed to impress, or accompaniments to large entrees. We think that a large salad, which consists of different colored vegetables and tossed in a homemade dressing, is quite delicious, but not everyone loves salad like we do. Is it salad that people don’t love, or is it that they have a limited view of them?
Most people consider a salad to be a mix of romaine or iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, celery, and cucumbers. Some people don’t even put that many ingredients in a salad, but let’s say that those are the only salad ingredients that people ever use. We would get bored with salads if we only made them with those ingredients, too! The sad truth is that many lettuces and other ingredients, which go great in salads and dressings, are often neglected, resulting in mundane salads.
The Common Salad Greens
The raw leaves that are used as the bases for salads come in many lettuce varieties. The most common lettuces that are used in salads include:
A crisphead lettuce variety that grows in the form of elongated, tightly clasped heads.
A large, occasionally curly head of lettuce that can have green or reddish leaves around the central stalk (green or red leaf lettuce are quite common).
Commonly used on burgers or sandwiches, butterhead lettuces resemble bulbous blossoming flowers.
Romain is a type of crisphead lettuce, but the most common crisphead variety is iceberg lettuce, which is a round ball of thin leaves, often containing fewer nutrients than most other leaves.
Why Should You Vary Salad Greens?
Aside from the sheer taste factor, varying your salad greens helps to diversify your nutrient intake. In addition to providing dietary fiber, magnesium, folate, potassium, several B-vitamins, and vitamins A, C, and K, different greens (kale, spinach, arugula, watercress, and more) can offer disease-fighting phytonutrients that may not be available in iceberg or romaine lettuces. To help you change up your salads, here are some of our favorite salad greens that are not romaine lettuce.
This peppery green is best when tossed in a lemony vinaigrette, and it is commonly incorporated into mesclun mixes. Arugula has frilly leaves and is rich in vitamin K, calcium, potassium, and folate. If the pepperiness is too intense, opt for baby arugula, which has a milder flavor.
The hype around kale is real, people, so believe it. The vitamin A content is off the charts, but it also contains a high amount of fiber, vitamin K, potassium, and calcium. Many varieties of kale exist, including lacinato, green curly, dinosaur, or even purple kale. The secret to making kale less tough in salads is to massage it when you rinse the leaves; one must also discard the thick, fibrous stems to avoid a bitter flavor. Another way to impart more flavor into the kale is to finely chop it and let it marinate in olive oil and lemon juice for 30 minutes before serving.
Spinach is the salad green that seems to hide in plain sight because it isn’t commonly used, despite the baby spinach salad craze of the early 2000s. Popeye was right about spinach, and it goes great with olive oil too (wink wink)! It has a mild taste and easily absorbs the flavors of powerful dressings or vibrant ingredients. Don’t hate on spinach, people. Toss it with an apple cider vinaigrette, strawberries, raw walnuts, pears, and red onions…you can thank us later.
While cabbage is not technically a lettuce, the sweet flavor and uniquely crunchy texture is a nice change of pace from the traditional romaine salad base. While you can add green or red cabbages to salads, Napa cabbage makes for a great salad base because it has a sweeter flavor. Thinly slice Napa cabbage and toss it in a ginger dressing with shredded carrots, thinly sliced apples, and onions.
Green Or Red Leaf Lettuce
If all of the previously mentioned greens seem a little daunting or unfamiliar, green or red leaf lettuces are baby steps away from romaine. They are robust heads with ruffled leaves that easily take on flavors. These lettuces go great with most seasonal ingredients and dressings, so be experimental with how you use them. Since the leaves are so big, you can use them to make raw wraps if you don’t want salad.
Frisee or Chicory
These spiky greens, which are similar to escarole or endives in flavor, offer a slightly bitter taste. Because of this, we recommend pairing these greens with heartier, intense ingredients like shredded beets, thinly sliced red onion, chives, radicchio, fennel, or hazelnuts. While they are delicate greens, they go toe to toe in flavor with the ingredients we suggested.