Food & Nutrition

The Skinny on Salad Greens

There’s a lot more to salad greens than packaged mixes or a head of iceberg lettuce. Here's how to go green.

No matter what variety of lettuce you prefer, the key to a crisp, fresh salad is to work with top-notch produce. These shopping tips will help you get the most from your leaves.

 

Tips for Buying and Storing

 

  • Look for compact heads without mushy spots or brown discoloration. Avoid microgreens or softer lettuces with squishy leaves.
  • If you’re buying packaged greens, toss the package a few times to make sure there’s no hidden rot among the leaves.
  • For storage of head lettuces, remove the root knot or ball, separate the leaves and place them in a cleaned sink filled with cold water. Give them a stir, then leave them for a couple minutes, stirring occasionally to let any grit fall off the leaves. Repeat this process once or twice until no grit remains on the leaves.
  • If you have a salad spinner, scoop the wet leaves into it (leaving the water and grit behind), dry them by spinning, and then drain off the water in the spinner. Cover again and store the greens in the spinner in the refrigerator for up to a week.
  • If you don’t have a salad spinner, scoop the wet leaves out of the sink and dry them between layers of paper towels. Roll the leaves up between dry layers of paper towels and seal them in a large plastic bag. Poke a few holes in the bag for aeration and store in the refrigerator for up to a week.

 

Beyond Salad: Other Things to Do with Greens 

 

Tired of tossing cold greens into a bowl and calling it a meal? Think beyond the salad spinner, and use your salad greens in these innovative, delicious ways.

 

  • Stronger microgreens like arugula and watercress are great on pizzas and in panini. You can also shred radicchio or endive for the same purpose.
  • Escarole, sorrel and dandelion greens are great in soups and stews. Just chop the leaves and stir them in for the last 10 to 15 minutes of cooking time.
  • Hearty lettuces like escarole, romaine, Belgian endive, and radicchio can be halved or quartered through their roots (rather than chopped), sprayed with nonstick spray and then grilled. Cook them over direct heat for no more than 5 minutes, just until a little softened and warmed up.
  • Larger leaves of romaine, radicchio, Boston, or Bibb lettuce make nice cups for the likes of tuna salad or tabbouleh.
  • Large soft leaves of Boston, red leaf or green leaf lettuce can become the wraps for savory fillings, summer rolls, or newfangled burritos.
  • The best greens on burgers? Watercress, romaine, mâche, and radicchio.

A Visual Buying Guide for Greens


From arugula to watercress, in varied shapes and shades, greens are versatile both raw and cooked. Here’s what you need to know about choosing, using and enjoying this year-round standard.

 

Butterhead

Butterhead
Butterhead lettuces, such as Boston and Bibb, make a sweet, mild salad — a good match with simple dressings, berries, stone fruits and mild vegetables.

Crisphead

Crisphead
Crisphead lettuces like the classic iceberg have a slightly acidic, clean taste, best with creamy dressings.

Loose-leaf

Loose-leaf
Loose-leaf lettuces like red leaf, green leaf or oak leaf lettuce offer a mild, grassy taste and a soft texture, good as a second fiddle to more robust or crisper greens

Long-leaf

Long-leaf
Long-leaf lettuces like romaine provide crunch with a slightly bitter flavor, great with creamy dressings or against softer, sweeter greens like red leaf lettuce.

Arugula

Arugula
A microgreen with a peppery bite, sometimes overwhelming on its own, especially when the leaves are larger.

Mâche

Mâche
A mild, sweet microgreen that pairs extremely well with tomatoes

Mizuna

Mizuna
A Japanese variety of microgreen, very tart and best paired with crunchy greens like torn-up romaine.

Sorrel

Sorrel
A very bitter microgreen, best only with very strong dressings (Roquefort, anyone?) or braised with other vegetables in soups, stews and stocks. Raw, it should be eaten in moderation since its high oxalic-acid content can cause an upset stomach.

Watercress

Watercress
A mustardy microgreen that’s great in sandwiches (so long as you remove any tough, woody stems).
 

Curly endive

Belgian endive
Crunchy and bitter, it’s a good foil to sweeter greens (despite its name, it’s actually a chicory-like radicchio, grown in the dark to prevent its turning green).

Curly endive
Like the French favorite, frisée, these are lacy, floppy greens that offer a pungent, chewy backdrop to crisp bacon or radishes
 

Escarole

Escarole
An Italian favorite, a bitter punch often cooked in soups and stews

Radicchio

Radicchio
A red chicory, it has a pleasant bitterness often mixed with romaine. Spearlike heads are less bitter than the more familiar, rounded heads.

 

 

Dandelion greens (Not pictured)
Aggressively bitter, they can also be braised, as you would collard or mustard greens.