If you only use one type of lettuce in your salads, we’re sorry to say that you are missing out on one of the greatest joys of human existence. Contrary to what the haters may say, salads can be packed with flavour, variety and intrigue if you just know how to do it. While we cannot possibly teach you all the secrets of the salad in one post, here is your best bet at tricking everyone you know into saying “Wow, this is the best salad I’ve ever had, are you, by chance, a gourmet chef?” Here’s the secret: using greens properly.
Every salad needs a solid base and – assuming this isn’t a pasta or potato salad – that base is going to be something green and leafy. The biggest mistakes people make when selecting their greens is using just one and assuming that all greens are created equal. Here is your quick guide to using the best greens that will take your salads from “Oh, a salad” to “Whoa! A salad!”
When you’re buying romaine, steer clear of anything droopy, browning or rusty-looking. The best, healthiest romaine is crisp, deep or bright green and relatively firm. When you get it home, throw it in a bowl or sink of cold water and wash it. Then roll the leaves up loosely in a tea towel and put them in a perforated plastic bag (to allow them to breathe).
Romaine a great backdrop for almost any flavour. It’s has a flavour of its own, but it’s not overpowering, making it one of the most versatile lettuce options. It pairs well with pretty much any other green and can handle a variety of other ingredients and dressings.
For a variation on this classic, try a grilled Caesar salad which adds the increased intrigue of that barbecue flavour.
Those boxes of spring mix can be tricky so look at them really carefully from every angle and shake them up a bit before you settle on one. They can go bad fast so be sure that you’re buying at its freshest and that there aren’t any slimy bits in the bottom. When you get your mix home, put it in a sealed plastic bag but blow some air into it like a balloon (assuming you’re not sick). The carbon dioxide in your breath will keep the leaves fresh longer.
Spring mix is meant to give you all the green variety you need in a salad without the work or cost of buying a bunch of different add-ins. It typically includes stuff like baby romaine, red romaine, spinach, arugula, butter lettuce and frisee. Sounds like variety to us; your work is done.
Radicchio is that deep red/purple lettuce with the bright white stem and it has a bitter flavour (definitely don’t make your whole salad out of it). It’s best to contrast that bitterness with sweet ingredients like fruit. Add in dried cranberries or blueberries or go for fresh fruits like strawberries, blueberries, figs or pear. For dressings, go fruit-based too with a raspberry, orange or lemon vinaigrette.
Boston Bibb or butter lettuce
Boston bibb is delicate in texture and flavour so you don’t want to overpower it with your ingredients. This is the perfect place to add in avocado, cucumber, egg and cheeses. A cucumber, dill yogurt-based dressing compliments well, but if you’re more of a vinaigrette fan, a lime and apple cider vinegar combination is delightful too.
If butter lettuce is a gentle caress, arugula is a punch in the face. But in a good way. Arugula has a peppery flavour and almost counts as an ingredient more than it does a base. If it’s a little too overpowering for your taste, mix it in with some spinach or other lettuce. Arugula pairs well with mild but distinctive flavours like beets, goat cheese, feta and nuts. For dressings, go bold with something like a blue cheese dressing or a sherry and red wine vinegar vinaigrette.