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Selecting Lettuce

Lettuce is a vegetable that is best enjoyed when it's fresh and crisp. Avoid salad greens that are wilted or have brown-edged or slimy leaves. Once they reach this point, there's no bringing them back to life. They should have vivid color, and leaves should be firm. Store greens in your refrigerator's crisper drawer, roots intact, in perforated plastic bags.

Romaine is a produce-department staple, and it's definitely better for you than iceberg. Less-recognizable greens come in a wider variety of sizes, shapes, and colors, and some manufacturers pre-pack a variety of these delicious treasures in handy salad packs.
head of lettuce
Lettuce leaves should be firm and vivid in color.
Here are tips for selecting and storing specific varieties of lettuce:

Arugula: Also known as rocket or roquette, these small, flat leaves have a hot, peppery flavor. The older and larger the leaves, the more mustard-like the flavor. You're more likely to find arugula in ethnic or farmers' markets than in supermarkets. It's so delicate, it keeps for only a day or two.

Chicory: This curly-leaved green is sometimes mistakenly called curly endive. The dark-green leaves have a bitter taste but work well in salads with well-seasoned dressings.

Endive: Belgian endive and white chicory are names for this pale salad green. The small, cigar-shaped head has tightly packed leaves and a slightly bitter flavor. Endive stays fresh for three to four days.

Escarole: A close cousin to chicory, escarole is actually a type of endive. It has broad, slightly curved green leaves, with a milder flavor than Belgian endive.

Radicchio: Though it looks like a miniature head of red cabbage, this salad green is actually a member of the chicory family, with a less bitter flavor. Radicchio keeps up to a week.

Romaine: Also known as cos, Romaine lettuce has long leaves that are crisp, with an oh-so-slight bitter taste. Romaine is hearty, storing well for up to ten days.

Watercress: This delicate green is sold in "bouquets," or trimmed and sealed in vacuum packs. Choose dark-green, glossy leaves and store in plastic bags; use in a day or two. Unopened vacuum packs last up to three days.

Tips for Preparing and Serving Lettuce

Dirt and grit often settle between the leaves of salad greens. Separate the leaves, then wash well before using. For small bunches, swish leaves in a bowl of water, then rinse.

In general, the stronger and more bitter the salad green, the stronger-flavored the dressing should be. Try warm mustard or garlic-based dressings with strong-flavored salad greens.

Check out the next section to learn about the health benefits of lettuce.

Want more information about lettuce? Try:
  • Vegetable Recipes: Check out recipes that feature lettuce and other vegetables.
  • Vegetable Gardens: Grow a full harvest of great vegetables this year.
  • Gardening: We answer your questions about all things that come from the garden.