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There’s no excuse for a boring salad, try some funky greens


There's a whole group of greens with fun textures and bold flavors just waiting to be tossed raw into salads.
 (PhotoSpin / The Spokesman-Review)
There's a whole group of greens with fun textures and bold flavors just waiting to be tossed raw into salads. (PhotoSpin / The Spokesman-Review)
Knight-Ridder Tribune

With all the salad greens and lettuces springing up in food stores these days, there’s no excuse for a plain old run-of-the-mill salad.

Bring home those funky greens that restaurant chefs have been wowing diners with for years.

The produce aisle can be a gorgeously confusing maze. Not all greens are green. Some are red or purple. Salad greens aren’t the same as collard and turnip greens, which are meant for cooking.

There’s a whole group of greens with fun textures and bold flavors just waiting to be tossed raw into salads.

Mix hearty bitter salad greens such as radicchio, Belgian endive, escarole, watercress and dandelion with lighter varieties, such as butter lettuce or red or green leaf lettuce, to reduce their intensity.

Or, just look for a spring mix that already combines compatible salad greens and lettuces. In such mixes, about half the greens and lettuces are sweet and mild, and the rest have a slightly bitter edge. The mixes pair best with oil-based dressings.

Flowering kale, frisee, Belgian endive and Swiss chard add splashes of color and design to salads. For a delicate accent, toss in fresh bean sprouts, broccoli sprouts or alfalfa sprouts.

Some grocery stores seasonally stock edible flowers, such as pansies and spicy nasturtium, which backyard gardeners have been adding to salads for years.

Make sure they’re marked edible and that they have been grown without pesticides.

Remember that balance is your goal, in color as well as taste.

Many home cooks are hip to the ever-changing world of salad possibilities, while others have been enjoying trendy greens only in restaurants.

If you’re not familiar with the newer salad greens and lettuces, here’s a guide to incorporating them into salads:

ARUGULA

Arugula’s attractive light to dark green fleshy leaves resemble elongated oak leaves and possess a warm peppery fragrance. Arugula delivers a distinct, rich flavor — mildly peppery, spicy and tangy. Its flavor becomes more robust as it matures, and intensity can vary from bunch to bunch. Its snappy flavor will liven up spring mix salads. Pair it with extra-virgin olive oil and sweet balsamic vinegar.

BABY ARUGULA

This green may be better suited to salads than regular arugula because it is more tender and less bitter. Bold in flavor for its size, baby arugula’s attractive and tiny mint-green leaves offer a spicy accent. Some describe young arugula as having a subtle, nutty flavor with a radish-like edge. Combine it with a variety of colorful leaf lettuces to create an elegant salad. Or enjoy it alone with a simple garlic vinaigrette. Its delicate texture is best suited to light dressings.

BABY SPINACH

The chewy texture of this young green is deliciously crispy and coarse. It is sweeter than regular spinach with a delicate, subtle taste. The tender, small stems are edible, too. Spinach salad, traditionally made with bacon and hard-cooked eggs, has become an American classic. A favorite dressing is raspberry vinaigrette.

BELGIAN ENDIVE

Smooth and slender, Belgian endive is a baby form of endive and boasts bright white, yellow-tipped closed leaves. Easy to chew, the elegant white heads of overlapping leaves offer a rich, slightly bitter flavor.

Bittersweet Belgian endive deliciously accents salads and sandwiches, but use it sparingly. Pair it with a vinegar and oil dressing.

DANDELION GREENS

Dandelion greens are simply the leaves of the common yellow flower that grows wild in your yard. The greens are available at high-end supermarkets and some specialty food stores.

Depending on the stage of growth, the pale green, jagged-edged leaves offer a slightly bitter flavor. The paler the leaves, the more tender the greens. Add pale crisp leaves to mixed green salads. Creamy dressings, fruity flavored vinegar or a light vinaigrette enhance the flavor.

ESCAROLE

Escarole, a member of the endive family, somewhat resembles a butterhead lettuce with curving and ragged chewy leaves that are broad and loose. Dark green at the top, the crisp-textured smooth leaves are paler near the stem. The inner leaves are tender. This bold and refreshing green delivers a sharp, bitter flavor.

FLOWERING KALE

This garnish also can be used as a salad green. Its attractive, serrated, vibrantly purple ruffled leaves offer a mild, cabbage-like flavor and chewy, semi-crisp texture. It is bitter, so a little goes a long way. Oil and vinegar dressing is preferred.

FRISEE

A member of the endive family with curly narrow fringed leaves that actually look frizzy, frisee’s light to lime-green lacy leaves offer a mildly bitter, but pleasing flavor. The delicate white centers are considered a culinary delicacy and have a less bitter taste. Chefs love its good looks. Mix with any other salad greens or serve alone with a favorite dressing drizzled on the crisp, chilled leaves. Oil-based dressing are most often used on this green.

NAPA CABBAGE

Producing white leaves at the bottom and pale green leaves at the top, Napa cabbage leaves are somewhat crinkly, but quite attractive. Delicately flavored compared with common cabbage, Napa is deliciously juicy, crisp, sweet and mild. A very versatile vegetable, it’s a “must” cabbage for salads and slaws.

RADICCHIO

This exceptionally attractive, deep red, round vegetable resembles a small head of cabbage. Heads grow from orange to grapefruit size.

Easy to peel off, the satiny crisp leaves offer a distinct bittersweet flavor. Use its pronounced flavor and splashy color to dress up mixed green salads. It goes with all types of dressings, but a vinegar and oil dressing is most commonly used.

RED SWISS CHARD

Beautiful to look at and delicious to eat, red Swiss chard not only offers color, it also delivers a lighter flavor compared with regular chard.

The striking large green or bronze-green leaves with deep red veins have a chewy texture and a just-right taste. The stalks are edible, too.

Use in moderation. It tends to dominate.

SAVOY CABBAGE

Combine this visually appealing baby green with a variety of colorful leaf lettuces to create an elegant salad. Or, enjoy it alone with a simple garlic vinaigrette. Its delicate texture is best suited to light dressings.

Prized for its flavor and considered the most versatile of the cabbages, it is used in salads and coleslaws.

SPRING MIX

Up to 16 different greens and lettuces are included in attractive and popular spring mixes. They may include red romaine, baby spinach, radicchio, green romaine, red oak leaf, mizuna (sweet with a mild mustard flavor and feathery leaves), red leaf, lollo rossa (red-tinged leaf lettuce with roots left intact), arugula, red mustard, green mustard, red chard, frisee and tatsoi (mild and dainty Asian micro-green with a flavor resembling spinach).

About half of the greens and lettuces are sweet and mild, while others have a slightly bitter edge. Typically paired with an oil-based dressing.

Most-Bitter Salad Greens

“Watercress

“Rainbow chard

“Dandelion greens

“Belgian endive

“Radicchio

———

Less Bitter Salad Greens

“Baby spinach - may be a stand-alone variety

“Frisee

“Spring mix - stand-alone variety

“Arugula

“Napa cabbage

———

ASIAN SESAME LIME SALAD

This recipe, from “Foodie” Jamie Miller of Pick ‘n Save Metro Market in Milwaukee, combines Asian greens and flavors with radicchio and dandelion greens.

3/4 cup canola oil

1/2 cup rice wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

Juice of 1 large lime

2 tablespoons finely chopped ginger

1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted (see note)

2 tablespoons coconut milk

1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt or to taste

2 cups spring mix greens (baby spinach, red leaf lettuce, frisee, radicchio)

1/2 cup bean sprouts

1/2 cup chopped radicchio, washed, trimmed and chopped

1/2 cup dandelion greens, washed, trimmed and chopped

4 ounces mushrooms (shiitake recommended), chopped

Chopped red onion to taste

4 ounces canned water chestnuts, drained

Prepare salad dressing. In small bowl, gently whisk together canola oil and rice wine vinegar. Add sesame oil, lime juice, ginger, sesame seeds, coconut milk and sea salt. Whisk to emulsify. Drizzle salad dressing into large bowl and turn the bowl just to coat. Combine greens and sprouts in bowl. Add mushrooms and red onion and toss to mix.

Divide between 2 individual salad bowls, drizzle additional dressing on top and garnish with water chestnuts. Makes 2 servings.

Note: To toast seeds, spread on ungreased baking sheet and place in preheated 325-degree oven 5 to 7 minutes, checking and stirring often to prevent burning. (Seeds also can be toasted in skillet over medium heat, 5 to 7 minutes, stirring frequently; or in microwave on high, 2 1/2 to 4 minutes, stirring after 2 minutes.)

———

ARUGULA AND BLUE CHEESE SALAD

This salad, also from Miller of Metro Market, adds toasted walnuts, crumbled cheese and dried cranberries to a mixture of arugula spring mix and dandelion greens. It’s finished with a light vinegar and oil dressing.

1/2 cup fine fruit vinegar, such as pear, cranberry or strawberry champagne wine vinegar

1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 cups arugula spring mix greens, washed (arugula, red leaf lettuce, baby spinach, frisee)

1 cup dandelion greens, washed, trimmed and chopped

8 ounces crumbled blue cheese

4 ounces walnuts, toasted (see note)

2 ounces dried cranberries for garnish

Prepare dressing. Place vinegar in bowl and slowly whisk in olive oil to emulsify. Set aside.

Place spring mix, greens, blue cheese and walnuts in bowl toss to mix.

Divide salad between 2 individual serving bowls. Garnish each salad with cranberries and drizzle dressing over top as desired. Makes 2 servings.

Note: To toast nuts, spread on ungreased baking sheet and place in preheated 325-degree oven 5 to 7 minutes, checking and stirring often to prevent burning. (Nuts also can be toasted in skillet over medium heat, 5 to 7 minutes, stirring frequently; or in microwave on high, 2 1/2 to 4 minutes, stirring after 2 minutes.)

———

AVOCADO CITRUS SALAD

Here’s a recipe for a colorful salad that tosses fruit into the mix.

6 cups baby spring mix lettuce

1 shallot, minced

1/4 cup champagne wine vinegar

3/4 cup canola oil

3 avocados

2 oranges

2 grapefruit

2 tablespoons dried cranberries

Mix together shallot and vinegar. Slowly whisk in oil to emulsify. Set aside.

Cut away grapefruit and orange peel, all the pith below, and the membrane around grapefruit flesh. Then cut sections free, carefully slicing along membranes.

Cut avocado in half, remove pit and slice avocado in the skin. Scoop out with a large spoon. Toss the spring mix with dressing and place on 6 plates or large platter. Garnish with orange, grapefruit and avocado slices. Drizzle fruit with a little of the dressing and serve. Makes 6 servings.

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