A salad with nothing but greens. It sounds easy, but bland and unappealing. Some children (and adults whose taste is rather child-like) might even call it disgusting. But some greens are so good on their own you wouldn’t even want to add chopped vegetables.
A Whole Alphabet of Greens
Sure, you can hide plain greens under a generous dose of creamy dressing, but that misses the point entirely. There is more to salad than practically pastel green iceberg lettuce. Arugula, butterhead, chard, dandelion greens, escarole, frisée – a whole alphabet of greens awaits the adventurous eater.
If you have ever eaten a store bought salad mix, you have probably been exposed to more greens than you realize. Mesclun, a common mix, is composed a variety of young greens. It can include better known varieties like arugula or frisee, but you can end up with practically anything, even fresh herbs! However, with a store bought mix, you don’t have control of the composition of your salad and you may end up with too many bitter greens or frizzy items that don’t suit you.
The best way to discover not only new types of greens, but new types of greens that you enjoy, is to head to your nearest farmers’ market. At the beginning of the season, greens take center stage, as they grow faster than other summer favorites like tomatoes or peas.
Get Your Sample On
Wandering the farmers’ market, you will inevitably come across at least one producer with buckets full of different greens. At first it can be both overwhelming and difficult to tell the difference between all the varieties. Like many farmers’ market finds, salad mixes may not carry the descriptive labels we have become accustomed to at supermarkets, so you need to talk to the person running the stand to figure out what is available.
Even more than the gorgeous produce, the farmers themselves are probably the best resource farmers’ markets have to offer. As long as you ask, most farmers are happy to let you taste each lettuce. In fact, they will probably be delighted to tell you the differences between the varieties, which type is buttery and which is bitter, and give you serving suggestions.
Don’t be shy! Try a little piece of each type of green until you find one that suits you. Just make sure there isn’t a long line snaking behind you and ask the farmer an open-ended starter question like, “I want to start making more salads at home. Can you tell me about the types of greens you grow?” The farmer may suggest adding a bit of a few other types into your salad. Don’t feel like are just trying to upsell you (although sometimes this is annoyingly the case). These people know their greens, and it is worth giving their suggestions a shot.
Taking Care of Your Fresh Greens
Once you get home, make sure to take good care of your greens, especially if you aren’t able to use them right away. Greens should be rinsed and placed on paper towels to dry. To store them, wrap them in a dishcloth or paper towels, and place the whole package in your crisper drawer in a large ziplock bag.
When it comes time to chow down, try this simple recipe instead of slathering your greens with store bought salad dressing. I picked it up in Italy, where there was nary an “Italian dressing” in site, pre-mixed or homemade. Everyone dressed their own salad, at the table, to suit their tastes.
Gabi’s Favorite Green Salad
Prep time: 5 minutes
- three handfuls spinach
- two handfuls baby arugula
- one handful dandelion greens
- one handful frisee
- one handful baby radicchio
- or eight cups mesclan greens
- olive oil
- balsamic vinegar
- freshly ground pepper
- sea salt
- Wash the greens by rinsing them in a colander or agitating them in a large bowl of water.
- Pat the greens dry with paper towels.
- Arrange a large handful of greens (one and a half cups) on each plate. I like to use eight inch plates so the salad fills the space nicely.
- Lightly zigzagging the bottle from side to side, drizzle a splash (~one half tablespoon each) of olive oil and balsamic vinegar over each salad.
- Sprinkle a bit (~quarter teaspoon) of salt and pepper on top.