I wanted to give you some background on lettuce, the health benefits, and why you should incorporate a daily salad into your diet! Did you know that lettuce actually started out as a weed around the Mediterranean basin more than 4,000 years ago? Christopher Columbus introduced lettuce to the new world, and from then on lettuce began to be cultivated in the United States. Iceberg was the dominant lettuce for many years in the United States, but now we have more varieties to choose from.
Needless to say, there are so many ways to prepare salads today with all kinds of varieties of lettuce, fruits, and vegetables that are readily available all year round. I usually like to go to the open market to buy my produce. The vegetables are picked in the early morning and sold the same day. I always buy organic—it’s the closest thing I can find to the magic taste sensation I remember from when I was small. Clean, earthy, with no pesticides, you could actually smell and taste the lettuce as nature intended. I get a happy feeling knowing I’m feeding my family a healthy meal made with greens fresh from the earth. If I can’t make it to the open market, I go to a market that offers organic fruits and vegetables.
Eating dark green lettuce has more nutritional value than lighter leaf lettuce. Darker leaves contain vitamin C (ascorbic acid), iron, beta-carotene, calcium, and fiber.
You should know that not all greens are created equal. I was surprised when I learned that the top-rated salad green was Watercress! It contains the highest percentage of your daily recommended intake for Vitamin K, A, B6, B12, D, E, C, calcium, iron, and magnesium. It scored 106% on the CDC’s density score of zero to 100. This green cruciferous veggie is on the list of cancer-fighting foods, helps build strong bones, and is important for eye health. The CDC determines the nutritional density of greens by looking at how they fulfill daily requirements for nutrients for your body including potassium, fiber, protein, calcium, iron, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, and zinc.
Romaine: It has sturdy leaves and can take any dressing.
Arugula (also known as rocket or roquette): My favorite, it has a peppery taste, and the larger the leaf, the more potent the flavor. I prefer baby arugula and wild arugula. If I had to choose one, it would be the wild baby arugula variety because it has the right balance of texture and it’s not too spicy. I mix it in with other salads to balance out the flavor. Usually extra-virgin olive oil with fresh lemon and kosher salt is all you need for a dressing. Oh yes, and shaved Parmesan cheese all over the top!
Mesclun: A lovely mix of several different wild, young, tender greens. You get a variety of lettuce in a mesclun mix, such as arugula, endive, watercress, and more.
Boston and Bibb: These lettuce leaves are delicate and lovely. I prefer to purchase them with their roots still intact, and then I store the lettuce until I’m ready to use it. I like to serve this lettuce at the end of a meal, with a light dressing and a creamy wedge of ripened brie with crusty French bread or gourmet crackers. So good!
Iceberg: Yes, I know it holds no nutritional value, and it’s very pale, but my family loves it for tacos, taco salads, chopped salads, sandwiches, and salad wedges. We serve our wedge salads with beefsteak tomatoes, sliced onion, and blue cheese, ranch dressing or balsamic vinaigrette.
Red leaf lettuce: This has soft and tender leaves and a lovely subtle flavor. Be careful because too much dressing will wilt the leaves. You should toss it and serve it right away. I like to use these tender leaves when I make minced chicken or beef and roll the delicious insides around the leaves because they are large enough to hold a nice portion!
Salad can be used as a side for dinner or for dinner itself. Most of the time, I end up with dinner or lunch in a bowl, my favorite mix of lettuce, veggies, meat, and cheese—everything you love in one stop!
Here is a lovely recipe for Butter Lettuce with Feta, Toasted Walnuts, Olive Oil and Shallot Lemon Dressing perfect for this time of the year.
4 cups sourdough cut into small cubes
2 Tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Pre-heat 350 F.
Place the sourdough bread in a bowl, drizzle over the olive oil, add the onion powder, garlic powder and use your hands to mix. Bake in a pre-heated oven on a baking sheet for 10 to 15 minutes or until the cubes are crunchy and turn a golden color. Set aside, let cool.
Store in an airtight container. Croutons will keep for 3 weeks.
2 Tablespoons plus 2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons Dijon Mustard
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 small to medium garlic clove, minced or pressed through a garlic press
4 anchovy fillets, chopped until it is a paste
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 heads romaine lettuce, remove large outer leaves, wash, dry well with a paper towel and tear into 1- ½ -inch pieces, approximately 9 to 10 cups
1/3 cup + 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 package of croutons
In a medium glass bowl add the lemon juice, Dijon Mustard, Worcestershire sauce, ¼ teaspoon of kosher salt, garlic, and anchovies; whisk until smooth
Whisking constantly add the oil in a slow, steady stream.
You will have dressing left over, at least 4 tablespoons enough to make another salad. It will keep in the refrigerator for 24 hours, shake well before using.
MIX THE SALAD
In a large salad bowl toss together lettuce, ½ teaspoon of kosher salt, 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, 4 Tablespoons of the dressing to coat. I use my hands to toss that way I make sure everything is mixed in evenly.
Sprinkle over 2 Tablespoons of remaining Parmesan cheese and a handful of extra croutons!
This recipe will give you 10 servings. There are only 4 tbsp. of dressing in the salad so it is lightly coated. Most Caesar Salads are dripping with thick creamy or oily dressings that weigh down the salad adding extra calories. This dressing is light and doesn’t have a heavy aftertaste.
Here are a few suggestions I would like to share with you on how to keep lettuce fresh:
- Always store lettuce in the refrigerator.
- Before you purchase the lettuce, check all around to make sure it is crisp and doesn’t have spots and isn’t wilted or slimy.
- Very delicate greens don’t last long, so it is better if you use them within two days.
- Before you store your organic greens, always check to make sure there isn’t a sweet little creature living in there.
- I store my lettuce in extra-large zip lock bags with two or three paper towels.
- Never put too much lettuce in one plastic bag. I pack it loosely with the paper towels because crowding the leaves will wilt them and they have a tendency to get slimy quicker.
- Lettuce should not be stored near fruits, especially apples. They give off a gas (ethylene) that promotes spoilage.
- Always wash and spin-dry your lettuce, even if the package says “prewashed.” Remember, you are eating raw vegetables, and everything should be washed thoroughly and dried.
Caesar Salad Zucchini & Cucumber Cobb Salad Fennel, Apple, & Parmesan Cheese Garden of Earthly Delights
Most of these salads are in my cookbook, “Food for Thought”