A generation ago, lettuce primarily meant those ubiquitous round heads of iceberg. These days there are more options available at the supermarket, including long-leaved, crisp varieties, such as romaine; soft, tender butter varieties, such as Bibb and Boston; and loose-leaved varieties, such as red and green leaf. Although arugula and other baby greens aren't botanically classified as lettuces, their spicy flavor adds pizzazz to many packaged salad mixes. Besides being low in calories, most salad greens are also nutritionally rich in vitamin C, beta-carotene, folate, and calcium.
Buying and Storing
Look for lettuces without wilted or broken leaves. Prepping the greens ahead of time (see below) is one way to fast-track dinner for several nights in a row.
Having different kinds of lettuce on hand allows you to customize your own salad mix. Try using wide, round Boston or Bibb lettuce leaves as cups for cooked meat or chicken, as well as wraps for sandwich fillings. Grilling, braising, and other cooking methods intensify the sweetness of lettuces, turning them from salad to side dish in minutes.
Tips for Prepping Lettuce
Fill a bowl with cold water and add greens. (The bowl of a salad spinner works well.) Swish the leaves around gently to release dirt. Lift greens out of the water and drain. Repeat with fresh water until there is no grit at the bottom of the bowl.
Spin leaves in the salad spinner until dry, or pat dry with paper towels. Be thorough; wet leaves decay quickly, and dressing adheres more readily to dry leaves. Transfer the greens to a zip-top bag lined with dry paper towels. (Or loosely roll the greens in a clean kitchen towel before bagging.)
Loosely seal the zip-top bag, so the greens get some air. If you have room in your refrigerator, you can also store the lettuce in the salad spinner. Depending on how fresh the leaves are to begin with, they can last up to 4 days. In general, heartier, darker lettuces last longer than paler, more tender ones.