Let us take a closer look at lettuce


When most people think of salad they think of Iceberg lettuce. It is, by far, the most common variety of lettuce. Although it is often criticized by some for having little flavor and practically no nutritive value, iceberg continues to be the top seller in the lettuce category.

Here are some more flavorful varieties that are available in most supermarkets:

— Boston (or butter) lettuce is a round, loosely packed head lettuce with soft green leaves. It is very sweet and tender.

— Bibb lettuce is related to Boston lettuce but is smaller, crisper, and more expensive.

— Leaf lettuce (red and green) is less sweet than Boston and Bibb. Its soft leaves with curly edges are ideal for sandwiches and make a good addition to salads. The red variety is more fragile than the green, but both can deteriorate quickly.

— Romaine lettuce has elongated heads with dark green outer leaves and lighter, more tender hearts. The leaves are very crisp and sturdy.

— Oak leaf lettuce, frisee, and chicory are less common salad greens. They are often included as components in baby-lettuce mixes.

Lettuce is a hardy, fast-growing annual vegetable with either loose or compact leaves. Leaf color ranges from light green through reddish brown. When it goes to seed, the flower stalks are 2 to 3 feet tall, with small, yellowish flowers on the stalk. The lettuce most commonly found in supermarkets (iceberg or crisphead lettuce) is the most difficult to grow in the home vegetable garden. Butterhead lettuces, which have loose heads and delicate crunchy leaves, are easier to grow. Cos, or romaine, lettuce forms a loose, long head and is between a butterhead and leaf lettuce in flavor. Leaf lettuce is easy to grow, grows fast, and provides bulk and color to salads.

Health benefits of lettuce: The darker the color of the salad green, the more nutritious it is. Beta-carotene is the chief disease-fighting nutrient found in the darker-colored greens. As an antioxidant, it battles certain cancers, heart disease, and cataracts. A dark-green color also indicates the presence of folic acid, which helps prevent neural-tube birth defects in the beginning stages of pregnancy. Most salad greens are also notable sources of vitamin C, potassium, and fiber.

Chicory is a good source of vitamin C, another antioxidant nutrient linked to prevention of heart disease, cancer, and cataracts. Some salad greens, including arugula and watercress, are members of the cruciferous family, adding more ammunition to the fight against cancer.

Get creative with your salads. Try mixing different salad greens with different vegetables, fruits, cheeses, meats, and even beans. Just watch the fat. If you are making your salad a main dish by adding meat to it, choose lean meats. Use cheeses sparingly and skip the bacon bits and croutons. Store-bought dressings can be high in fat and sodium and are often expensive. Try making your own dressing. It’s easier than you think. Use our dressing ideas (opposite) but be creative. Add dressing to salads just before use and be careful not to add too much. One tablespoon of dressing can contain up to 15 grams of fat.

Source: Vermont Cooperative Extension

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Pear Balsamic Salad

8 romaine lettuce leaves

2 pears, cored and thinly sliced

Balsamic vinegar (or vinegar of your choice)

4 ounces gorgonzola cheese (optional)

Pepper

1. Line 4 salad plates with lettuce leaves.

2. Arrange the pear slices over the lettuce.

3. Sprinkle with vinegar and lightly dust with pepper.

4. Crumble cheese over salad and serve.

Nutrient analysis does not include cheese.

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Silverglade Salad

6 cups green leaf lettuce, torn

6 cups red leaf lettuce, torn

4 cups seedless red grapes, halved

2 cups reduced-fat Swiss cheese, shredded

1/3 cup water

1/3 cup white wine vinegar

1/3 cup canola oil

5 teaspoons brown sugar

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 green onions, chopped

1 ½ cups honey roasted nuts

4 bacon strips, cooked and crumbled

In a large bowl, combine the lettuces, grapes and cheese. In a jar with a tight fitting lid, combine the water, vinegar, oil, brown sugar and mustard. Shake well.

Add onions to the dressing. Pour over salad and toss to coat. Sprinkle with nuts and bacon. Serve immediately.

Sandra R. Can in the Bladen County Extension Office director. She can be reached at sandra_cain@ncsu.edu or 910-862-4591.

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