The beauty of salads is that whether you’re looking for sweet, soft, subtle, or bitter flavours, there are many different tastes and textures which make a tasty meal on their own, or which can provide a wonderful base for a range of interesting ingredients.
But if you don’t know your red chard from your romaine, then this guide is here to help you. There are hundreds of different cultivars within each variety, but this list will help you identify the main types.
Cos, or romaine lettuces as they are also known, have a long, oval head of tightly packed crisp leaves. They are rich in potassium and also contain carotenoids. They are the perfect and traditional base for Caesar salads.
Cos is so called as it is thought it originated on the Greek Island of the same name (Kos).
A pale, round, tightly packed lettuce which has crisp leaves with a refreshing
British Iceberg lettuce is available from May through to October and reaches the stores less than 24 hours after picking. It stays fresh longer than any other type of lettuce, if kept at a constant cool temperature
The traditional ‘British lettuce’ the round lettuce has soft mid-green outer leaves and a slightly crisper, paler heart.
A smaller, compact variety of cos lettuce. The rich, outer leaves and delicate inner leaves are crisp, with a sweet flavour. Simply halve or quarter the spear-shaped heads lengthways or separate into individual leaves.
A striking red and white chicory with a slightly bitter flavour
A non-hearting loose-leaf lettuce, Lollo Rosso has fringed and crinkled leaves that are tinged deep red at their ends, with a fairly tender, yet crisp texture. The depth of colour varies with each variety. It contains the antioxidant quercetin, which is believed to reduce the risk of heart disease.
Another loose-leaf lettuce, Oak leaf has very attractive serrated, deep-green leaves sometimes tinged with red.
Red Chard is a member of the Swiss Chard family and is also available with many other stem colours. The name chard actually refers to the broad middle stalks and the side ribs rather than the leafy part of the plant. Ideal for brightening up salads, red chard has a distinct flavour and, when young, can be treated like spinach and eaten raw or cooked.
This is a spiky firm textured leaf, which is mildly bitter with a slight grainy texture. Also known as curly endive, frisee is a form of chicory, and belongs to the Compositae or daisy family. Traditionally this is combined with poached eggs and bacon in the classic French bistro salad and, mixed with other leaves, provides a great and robust bed for a variety of hot ingredients.
A broad leaved kind of frisee, this has crunchy, mild green outer leaves and a pale heart. The flavour is slightly bitter, but less so than frisee. It is good mixed with milder salad leaves.
If you want a mixed salad all in one lettuce, then Gourmet Medley’s the one for you. Lollo Rosso (slightly nutty), Lollo Biondi (mild and tender) and Red Oak Leaf (mild and sweet) are grown tightly together in one root ball and then cut and sold as a three headed lettuce.
Batavia lettuce is a non-hearty lettuce with frilly leaves. Its crunchy nutty flavoured leaves grow upright to form a loose leaf head. Batavias have an excellent shelf life, maintaining their crispness from the time they're harvested until the time they reach the dinner table.
A light green frilly leafed ettuce with a delicate testure and a mild flavour
A young tender leaf with a bright red stalk and deep red leaf. A mild delicate beetroot flavour.
Light green serrated leaves with a soft texture and mild mustard flavour
Young spinach leaves are tender and sweet and are delicious raw or cooked. Eating raw spinach, such as in a salad, minimises the loss of nutrients, which occurs during cooking. Thought to originate from the Mediterranean, spinach is a member of the goosefoot family, which also includes Swiss chard, table beet and leaf beet. The fresh, leafy taste is especially delicious with egg, tomato and lentil dishes.
Thought to originate from southern Europe, rocket is very versatile and great served cold in salads, wilted in pasta or on top of a pizza. Also known as arugula, ruccola and roquette, this thin spiky leaf has a strong peppery flavour and has long had a role in Italian cookery. Dioscorides (40-90AD), the Greek physician and pharmacologist, described the leaf as ‘a digestive and good for ye belly’. It also contains compounds called Glucosinolates which are believed to have a possible protective role against certain types of cancers.
A member of the Cruciferae family, watercress has a distinctive ‘raw’ flavour, both peppery and slightly pungent. Watercress is the UK’s most historic salad leaf and, unlike other salad leaves, is grown in gravel beds, washed by flowing mineral rich spring water. The ancient Greeks called watercress kardamon and believed it could brighten their intellect, hence their proverb “Eat watercress and get wit”. The leaf is popularly eaten in soup and salads, as well as frequently featuring as an ingredient in detox juices. For more details visit www.watercress.co.uk.
A true brassica, tatsoi is a form of Chinese flat cabbage. Lustrous dark green leaves have a delicate mustard flavour with a crunchy but succulent and juicy stalk. In the same family as Pak Choi, this Asian green is delicious sautéed with a little sesame oil or slightly wilted in stir fries.