This week's veg box had a definite green theme - I received three different types of salad. The problem is, I know very little about salad so I was incapable of telling which sort they were or even what the differences between them were. Lettuce is lettuce, as far as I'm concerned !
Well, apparently not. I've been investigating and was shocked to learn that there are more than 60 varieties of lettuce and salad leaves grown in the UK. TV chef and salad lover Dean Edwards is actually on a mission to help the nation to make more of salad because, although we are growing and consuming more salad than ever before, in Britain we eat less salad per head than the rest of Europe and the USA.
I used to think I didn't like salad but I've learnt that it's all in the dressing and added ingredients. If there are over 60 varieties to discover, saying you don't like salad is like saying you don't like fruit or vegetables - there are bound to be at least a few varieties that suit your tastes.
OK, I'll hand you over to Dean Edwards, because he obviously knows far more about the green stuff than I do !
Make More of Salad with Dean Edwards
“Lettuce and salad leaves are the ultimate fast food, in minutes you can create delicious, healthy meals with minimum fuss. There is a wide range of leaves available in the UK, each offering a unique flavour, colour and texture to a dish so get experimenting and try something new. Let your salad take centre stage and celebrate this fantastic ingredient!”
Dean’s guide to leafy salads
There are 12 core types of leafy salad available in major supermarkets and here’s my guide to making the most of them. You can buy leafy salads prepared in bags and as individual wholeheads. Enjoy!
Iceberg has a fantastic crunch and sweet flavour, and is one of the ‘juiciest’ lettuces around. It is also one of the most versatile lettuces and is equally tasty with hot or cold foods. Serve it with burgers or fill the leaves with spicy chicken or veg for a healthy twist on fajitas.
A firm hearted lettuce with a sweet flavour, that can be used in so many ways. Little gem leaves make great scoops for dips because they really hold their shape. They’re also fantastic braised in chicken or veg stock with peas for a summery vegetable dish. Tear, slice or cut into wedges, this little lettuce has a lot to offer.
Lollo rosso also known as lolla rossa
Lollo rosso is one of the most attractive lettuces in the salad bowl with its large, frilly green red leaves. The leaves are soft and pliable so make great wraps and have a subtle, mild flavour making it ideal for serving with fish. I like to serve it with white fish so the colour of the leaves really stands out.
Rocket is a real restaurant favourite and adds punch and pepperiness to a dish. It’s a versatile leaf and can be served cold as a salad or warm stirred into pasta and risottos. Its flavour perfectly complements cheese such as parmesan and I love to scatter it on top of pizza for added flavour. It also makes a fab starter with parmesan shavings wrapped up in prosciutto or Parma ham.
Watercress has experienced a revival lately as more people recognise the health benefits of this nutritious leaf and the huge amounts of flavour it delivers. It has a citrusy, spicy onion taste and is a good match with spinach. It’s great with fish and you can whip up a sauce for salmon fillets in minutes by blending watercress, crème fraiche and lemon juice.
Romaine / cos
Romaine, or cos lettuce as it’s also known, is the signature lettuce for a Caesar salad. It has great crunch and a refreshing, aromatic flavour. To make a simple Caesar salad simply tear up some leaves and make a dressing from mayonnaise, a dash of white wine vinegar and shavings of parmesan then finish with some crunchy croutons. I also like to add anchovies to mine. You can enjoy the salad on its own or add chicken or salmon.
Red chard has a striking red stem and small, dark green leaves. The leaves keep their shape and it can be used like spinach and added to stir-fries and in warm salads. The dramatic colour makes it a great partner with the vivid orange of butternut squash or sweet potato.
Baby leaf spinach
Popeye’s favourite and one of mine too. Spinach has an earthy, buttery taste which complements a wide range of foods, from meats to fish and vegetables – you can enjoy it raw or cooked. I think it goes particularly well with cream or tomato based dishes. Try stirring it into a soup, curry or a tomato pasta sauce, or enjoy on its own sautéed with butter and garlic. It’s particularly great partnered with watercress and rocket in a salad.
Radicchio is a member of the chicory family; it has firm, bright purple leaves with a white stem and veins. It has a bitter flavour which is great with sweeter lettuces such as iceberg, cos and round butterhead lettuce, and complements rich foods such as cheese. Dip the leaves into a baked camembert; the bitter crunch is perfect with the rich, creaminess of the cheese.
Like radicchio, endive is also a member of the chicory family and shares its crisp texture and nutty, bitter flavour. It can be served raw or cooked and works well with sweet dressings such as honey and mustard.
Round / butterhead
The UK’s oldest type of lettuce, the green butterhead has soft, bright green leaves and as the name suggests; a mild, buttery taste with a floral like quality. It’s extremely versatile and goes with just about anything, but I like to enjoy it with other delicate flavours such as white fish, chicken or vegetables so it isn’t overpowered. It’s great with a buttermilk dressing, try mixing a few table spoons of buttermilk with a teaspoon of white wine vinegar or rice vinegar and a tablespoon of olive oil and season to your own personal taste.
Bright green with large frilly leaves, this lettuce is perfect for tearing and has a sweet flavour with a slightly acidic finish. It’s a nice partner for butterhead lettuce and makes a fabulous green salad. Its frilly leaves are great for mopping up sauces and dressings, it’s a good one to have with a roast chicken for a lighter take on a Sunday roast.
For more information about leafy salads and for recipes and tips see www.makemoreofsalad.com or talk to us on Twitter @makemoreofsalad.
Right, well judging by that, I have a butterhead in the middle and two different sorts of crisp/curly ones on either side. Now that I know what I'm dealing with, time to get experimental in the kitchen. You'll see a definite salad theme going on on the blog this week - I blame it on the heat !
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