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Lettuce talk: Beyond romaine

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Lettuce talk: Beyond romaine

Don’t get us wrong – we love romaine on the FMD! It’s terrifically nutritious (tons of vitamins A, C, K …). Hey, it’s even great on the grill.

But next time you’re in the grocery store, poke around a little. You’ll find gorgeous lettuces and baby greens that will boost your salads—and your health.

Arugula

Spiky, peppery arugula really zings up a salad. Sprinkle a few leaves in with other lettuces, or make an all-arugula salad if you love that spicy kick.

Choose: Arugula is usually sold as baby arugula (it’s milder than the grown-up version) in clear plastic tubs to prevent crushing and bruising. Make sure it looks fresh and crisp in there, not yellowed, browned, or slimy.

Store: Like all baby greens, arugula wilts if you don’t use it quickly. If it’s nice and fresh when you buy it, expect it to last about 4 to 5 days in the fridge.

Why it’s so good for you: It’s an aphrodisiac! (At least, the early Romans thought so.) Arugula is packed with minerals and antioxidants that block environmental toxins, too.

Bibb Lettuce

Along with its near-twins, Boston and butterhead lettuce, Bibb lettuce is tender, and it really does have a buttery taste and feel – almost as if each leaf has been dipped in cream. They can single-handedly make your everyday side salad taste like a delicacy. Flexible, cup-shaped leaves make these perfect for lettuce wraps.

Choose: Bibb-type lettuces can range from pale yellow to medium green or red-tipped. Leaves should be fresh and flexible—not floppy. Stores sometimes sell these as “living lettuce” (with the roots still attached) in clear plastic boxes to keep them fresher and to prevent bruising.

Store: Handle tender Bibb-type lettuces with care, and use them quickly; they’re freshest within a few days after you buy them.

Why it’s so good for you: You’ll get a rich boost of Vitamin A, potassium, and folate.

Escarole

Slightly bitter escarole tastes great cooked (it’s traditional in Italian soups and stews). The pale inner leaves are sweeter—wonderful in salads.

Choose: Choose full, crisp heads of escarole that aren’t wilted. The outer leaves might feel a little leathery, but they shouldn’t be browned or damaged.

Store: Hearty escarole actually keeps quite well in the fridge for about a week.

Why it’s so good for you: Escarole’s deep green leaves are loaded with vitamins A and C.

Frisée

Otherwise known as curly endive, frisée lettuce has pretty, pale, frizzy leaves (you’ll often see it in mesclun mixes) and an ever-so-slight bitter edge. Try it in salads with nuts, sweet fruits (apples, pears, figs), or hot, crumbled turkey bacon.

Choose: Fresh frisée is crisp and firm, with yellow to green-tinged leaves.

Store: Frisée holds up fairly well in the fridge, but it’s freshest within about 5 days of purchase.

Why it’s so good for you: Frisée is a good source of vitamin C, as well as the antioxidant kaempferol, which has been shown to help prevent cancer and heart disease.

Oakleaf Lettuce

Prized for its mild, nutty flavor, this wavy-edged lettuce looks similar to oak leaves. Use it just like green leaf lettuce. It goes especially well with tangy fruits (like nectarines) and vinaigrette dressings.

Choose: Grocery stores usually sell rosette-shaped heads of oak leaf lettuce in rigid plastic containers to prevent bruising. Oakleaf can be green or red-tinged. Look for bright, undamaged leaves.

Store: Like all tender lettuces, oak leaf is more perishable than ordinary green leaf lettuce. It’s best to use oak leaf within 4 days or so.

Why it’s so good for you: Oak leaf lettuce is rich in minerals and vitamins A, B, C, D, and E.

Radicchio

This beautiful, burgundy Italian lettuce looks like a tiny head of red cabbage. The cup-shaped leaves are pleasantly bitter; tear them into salads, or use them to scoop tuna, chicken, or egg salads. Transform radicchio by grilling or sautéeing it—the edges get caramelized and sweet.

Choose: Radicchio leaves should be white at the base and red at the tips—not brown anywhere. Heads should be crisp.

Store: Radicchio lasts quite well in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer—up to two weeks, depending on how fresh it was when purchased.

Why it’s so good for you: One cup of radicchio delivers an astonishing 128 percent of your daily vitamin K—and radicchio is one of the top 5 sources of antioxidant polyphenols, right behind red chili peppers and beets.

Watercress

Wonderfully peppery (without bitterness), watercress tastes great in salads or sandwiches, especially with creamy counterparts like tuna, chicken, or egg salads.

Choose: Grocery stores usually sell delicate watercress in clear plastic boxes. Look for crisp-looking leaves and stalks. Pass up any damaged or browning watercress.

Store: Store watercress carefully to avoid bruising (if it’s in a box, just keep it there). Use it as soon as possible—within a day or two. Sand often clings to watercress, so wash it thoroughly; swish it in a bowl of water and then spin or pat it dry.

Why it’s so good for you: Watercress is a true superfood. It tops William Paterson University’s list of 41 “powerhouse” fruits and veggies, crammed more of 17 critical nutrients than every other fruit and vegetable in the study (even more than kale and blueberries!).

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