As people have become more nutrition-conscious, salads have gained in favor as an essential part of a healthy meal. Luckily, we have moved well past the iceberg lettuce salad of yesteryear. If iceberg is the only type of salad green you eat, you are choosing the least nutritious member of a group of nutritional champions. Any other lettuce or leafy green vegetable would be a better choice.
Salad greens: nutrition
The darker green the leaves, the more nutritious the salad green. Watercress, for example, has almost 10 times as much beta carotene, four times the calcium, and six times the vitamin C of iceberg lettuce. And insoluble fiber, which helps to satisfy the appetite as well as promote good intestinal function, is particularly plentiful in darkly pigmented salad greens.
Indeed, most of the non-lettuce greens listed here are higher in nutrients and phytochemicals than the basic types of lettuce. Arugula and watercress, two non-lettuce greens in the cruciferous vegetable family, are packed with beneficial plant chemicals.
Although darker greens generally supply more beta carotene, chicory and dandelion greens top the chart for this healthful carotenoid. Small amounts of the B vitamin folate are found in many salad greens, with chicory providing a particularly impressive amount: 100 percent of the daily requirement in 2 cups. By varying the greens in your salads, you can enhance the nutritional content as well as vary the taste and texture.
For a full list of nutrients, check the National Nutrient Database:
- Chicory greens
- Green leaf lettuce
- Iceberg lettuce
- Kale (baby)
- Red leaf lettuce
- Romaine lettuce
- Spinach (baby)
How to prepare salad greens
Even if greens look clean, they should be washed—and in some cases, trimmed—before you put them in the salad bowl.
Since grit tends to collect at the stem end of greens that come in heads, especially loose heads, it’s important to twist off the stem and separate the leaves before washing them. To wash small-leaved greens on stems, such as watercress and arugula, cut off the roots, hold the greens by the stems, and swish them around in a large bowl of cool water. Lift out the leaves, letting the sand and grit settle, then empty and refill the bowl and repeat the process.
A salad spinner greatly simplifies the preparation of greens by drying them quickly and thoroughly, and dry leaves are a must if the dressing is to adhere properly to the greens.
You can either tear greens into bite-sized pieces by hand or cut them with a knife; each method has its proponents. Kitchen shears are useful for snipping leaves, too. As long as you use a stainless steel blade (carbon steel can cause blackening and alter the flavor) and serve the salad soon after it’s prepared, it’s safe to cut most greens. However, delicate leaves, such as mâche and arugula, are more appealing when torn or left whole.
Types of Salad Greens
From arugula to spinach, a host of greens are delicious additions to salads.
Recipe ideas for salad greens
Although most people use salad greens raw in salad, they can also make a savory side dish. Here are innovative ways to prepare salad greens, as well as some simple salad dressings you can make that have little to no fat.
- Mince a clove of garlic and sauté in fragrant olive oil. Add a mix of salad greens such as arugula, mizuna, kale, or dandelion greens and cook until just wilted.
- Blend tender greens such as mesclun and spring lettuces with a banana and yogurt or apple juice for a nutritious smoothie.
- For a sophisticated breakfast, fry an egg directly on a bed of tender salad greens.
- Use what is essentially a Bloody Mary mixture (look for low-sodium versions) and add a touch of oil to smooth out the flavors.
- Make a Thai-style salad dressing of soy sauce (reduced-sodium), lime juice, and just enough brown sugar to offset the acid of the lime juice.
- Combine apple juice concentrate with mustard.
- Stir chopped fresh basil, garlic, and black pepper into fat-free yogurt.
Published April 27, 2016