With summer just around the corner, it’s time to think green. From picnics to packed lunches, BBQs to intimate al fresco dining, salads are an indisputable summer staple. The good news is that there’s now such a wide variety of lettuce leaves available that no two salads need ever be the same!
Whether you shop at a supermarket or your local farmer’s market, you’ll be spoilt for choice with a wonderful selection of lettuces and salad greens, some of which are so exotic you may have never heard of them before. Even better, many salad greens are easy to grow yourself. For the best selection of lettuce seeds, consult a reputable garden centre or buy online from a specialist seed supplier such as Seed Parade.
For lettuce ‘learners’ or anyone wishing to broaden their salad green knowledge base, we’ve put together a handy overview of 10 types of leaves you’re likely to encounter. Whether you’re looking for sweet or bitter tastes, and soft or crunchy textures, there are many delicious varieties out there to satisfy every taste.
A member of the chicory family, Endives have a unique oval shape and a soft sheen texture. The taste is sweet and nutty with a mild bitterness that make Endives a great addition to any salad. The scoop-like leaf quality is perfect to use as edible servers for canapes and appetisers.
Lamb’s Lettuce is also called Field Salad, Corn Salad or Mâche. Its long spoon-shaped leaves are said to resemble a lamb’s tongue. The small dark leaves have a characteristically mild and slightly sweet flavour that works exceedingly well in salads, particularly in combination with other leaves, or steamed as a vegetable. Lamb’s Lettuce is easy to grow through the summer though the plant prefers cooler, shadier areas to full-on heat which will make it go to seed quickly. Full of vitamins B6, B9, C, E and Omega 3 fatty acids, its leaves are very delicate, so take care when handling.
A loose leaf lettuce with a deep red colour (also look out for its sibling Lollo Bianco), this salad plant has characteristic fringed and crinkled leaves. An exciting and satisfying salad green on its own or in combination, its texture is tender yet crisp. Lollo Rosso is high in quercetin, an antioxidant that is said to reduce the risk of heart disease.
Variously known as Japanese Greens, Kyona or California Peppergrass, Mizuna is a type of Japanese mustard green with jagged edges that resemble miniature oak leaves, on white stems. The flavour is robust and pungent without being overpowering, which makes Mizuna a great addition to any mixed salad or Oriental Stir Fry recipe. Grown in the vegetable bed as a cut-and-come again crop from spring to autumn, harvesting is a simple scissor snipping job that can be repeated throughout the season.
Sometimes called Italian Chicory or Red Chicory, this is a deep red/purple vegetable with white ribs and a compact round or oval head. Radicchio is popular in mixed salads and has a unique spicy flavour. In Italian cuisine, the heads are grilled with olive oil or incorporated into a risotto, when the colour of the Radicchio turns brown and the taste becomes sweet. Radicchio is easy to grow in the garden – it can be harvested early at the baby leaf stage or let to mature until hearts have formed.
A well know variety of lettuce also known as Arugula, Rucola or Roquette, Rocket originally comes from Southern Europe where it is used widely in salads, as a pizza topping, wilted in pasta or in pesto type sauces. The thin spiky leaves have a peppery taste that also mixes well with other leaves. The Greek physician Dioscorides (40-90AD) described Rocket as a ‘digestive and good for ye belly’.
Romaine lettuces have a long oval head of quite stiff and tightly packed leaves that taste mild to slightly bitter. The crunchy leaves are traditional base for a Classic Caesar Salad, and they’re high in potassium and carotenoids. Also called Cos Lettuce and including Little Gem varieties, they are thought to originate from the Greek island of Kos.
Not only is Spinach a great source of vitamins A and C, it’s an all round leafy vegetable that can be enjoyed raw in salads, or cooked in a myriad of ways. Young spinach leaves are especially tender and sweet. Thought to originate from the Mediterranean region, the plant is a member of the goosefoot family, along with Swiss Chard and Beetroot. Spinach is very easy to grow at home. To ensure a continuous supply of young leaves, sow seeds every other week.
Also known as Spinach Mustard, or Spoon Mustard on account of its spoon-shaped leaves, Tatsoi is a type of Chinese flat cabbage and a true brassica. The dark green leaves have a distinct mustard flavour and creamy texture, but with a juicy, succulent stalk. It’s a resilient cool-temperature crop that can even be harvest from under snow! This Asian green is part of the Pak Choi family – it’s delicious in a salad, in stir fries or sautéed with a little sesame oil.
A cruciferous vegetable that can be eaten raw or cooked, watercress is a relative of mustard and has a distinctive peppery, pungent flavour. It is one of the strongest tasting salad greens around. Watercress has deep green leaves; it’s an aquatic plant that thrives in clear, slow moving water which can make it slightly more challenging to grow in the garden. Known as Kardamon (not to be confused with the spice Cardamom) by the ancient Greeks, Watercress is highly nutritious with a high vitamin content (A, C, E) as well as significant iron and calcium levels.