With a plethora of lettuce varietals out there, all with tons of unique flavor and superfood properties, why stop at iceburg and romaine?
With so many types of lettuce even at your average grocery store, it's about time we start spreading the love around. The most common salad greens like romaine, iceburg, butter and greenleaf lettuce all belong to a plant family called Lactuca sativa. While they can all be delicious in a salad, this family of lettuce isn't as nutritionally dense as its darker leafy-green counterparts. To get more nutritional balance in your salads, try switching it up with some of these alternative greens. Every individual variety of lettuce offers its own unique textures, flavors, and nutritional value - so why not give your salads a change-up with something new? For whenever you're craving something a little different or want to switch up the routine, turn to our lettuce guide! We just want you to live your best summer salad life (speaking of which, if you don't have a salad spinner, it's our holy grail for making amazing salads!)
Here's our list of alternate salad greens that we happen to love - read on for our lettuce guide!
Alternative Lettuce Guide
Sometimes seen as: rocket
Arugula might be Giada's hands-down favorite salad green, and with good reason. It has a distinct peppery taste that balances sweet dressings and salad fixings, and while very tender, it has a bit more body than baby spinach. Other than flavor, it's loaded with nutritional benefits. It contains a compound called sulforaphane, which is currently being studied for its ability to actually stop cancer in its tracks by inhibiting an enzyme that progresses cancer cells. We love to use it raw in salads, to top pizzas with, or slightly wilted into pastas.
We all know we should be eating more spinach - just ask Popeye! This nutritionally dense food is exceptionally low-calorie for the amount of vitamins and minerals it contains. Like other dark leafy green vegetables, it's a great source of iron - so if you don't eat meat or don't eat a lot of it, spinach is a great place to turn to get it. It's also loaded with vitamin A, so your skin and hair will thank you for incorporating more of it into your diet. Spinach can sometimes get a bad rap in terms of taste, but when you prepare it right, we think it's delicious. Our favorite way to eat baby spinach is tossed in at the last minute with pasta, so it's just slightly wilted.
Belgian endive are those little torpedo-shaped heads of lettuce you'll find at the grocery store. It belongs to the chicory family, along with frisee and escarole. Belgian endive also has a distinctly bitter taste - not an unpleasant one, though! This bitter flavor comes from intybin, a compound that is known to be a digestive aid and appetite stimulant... making them perfect for a pre-dinner snack! They have a soft texture, but the leaves are strong enough to use for appetizers (we find they make a great gluten-free substitute for crostini!). We love the texture of the Belgian endive, so we generally prepare it raw in salads along with other lettuces and vegetables for texture.
Sometimes seen as: broad-leafed endive, Bavarian endive
Escarole is a leafy green that you might sometimes mistake at first for romaine - but the wavy, wild-looking edges of its leaves are distinct to escarole. It has a similar bitter flavor to Belgian endive and Frisee, which are all in the same family of chicory. It's rich in vitamins and fiber, making it a great dietary addition for aiding in digestion. We love escarole raw in salads, but it can also hold up in soups and stews.
Sometimes seen as: curly endive
Another member of the chicory family, frisee is wildly curly in appearance and you can't miss it in the lettuce aisle. The distinct appearance offers an equally unique texture, both tender and crunchy at once. Because of its mildly bitter flavor, we love it tossed with sweeter and more acidic ingredients in a salad, like segments of orange or ruby-red grapefruit. While delicious raw, it also holds up very well to being cooked and can offer loads of fiber to soups - like in Giada's Italian Wedding Soup!
Sometimes seen as: Italian chicory
Radicchio, though it sometimes looks like a small dark purple cabbage, also belongs to the chicory family! It has a sharp, bitter flavor that we adore in salads. You can mellow out the taste by grilling it (like Giada does in her Healthier Wedge Salad) or cooking it down (like in Nonna Luna's Bitter Rice!). It's very high in minerals like manganese, copper, zinc and potassium - so eat up!
Treviso is a varietal of Radicchio, and looks and tastes quite similar. In most recipes, they can be used interchangeably - however, treviso's flavor is more delicate and less sharp than radicchio's. It can be harder to find Stateside than it is in Italy (it's a very popular salad lettuce in Italy!) so when you do find it, buy some!
Sometimes seen as: Lacinato kale, dinosaur kale, cavolo nero
If you can't get on the kale train, make sure you've tried Tuscan kale before you give up! Visually, it's much darker and less curly than other varieties. It's much more tender in texture than the curly kale - and it's also significantly less bitter. We suggest massaging it with a little kosher salt if eating it raw to make it even more tender. It has a more earthy flavor that we love. As a top contender of all the superfood lists in the last 10 years, we don't have to tell you how good for you kale is - just suffice to say it's one of the most nutritionally dense foods on the planet. Your digestive system will thank you for adding more kale into your diet!