Knowing which greens to use and how to dress them is the secret to making a good salad.
Types of Salad Greens
Boston and Bibb have a compact, round head of tender pale-green leaves. Leaf lettuce (red or green) branches out loosely with smooth or crinkly leaves that are delicate. Iceberg has a solid head of tightly wrapped creamy, pale-green leaves that are crunchy and mild. The long, narrow, dark-green outer leaves of romaine have crisp ribs and a good strong flavor; the pale yellow heart is sweet.
Both arugula and watercress have fragile dark-green leaves and a slightly spicy flavor.
The feathery leaves of frisee range from yellow white to yellow green. Endive has a cigar-shaped head of crunchy leaves. Radicchio's burgundy red leaves with white ribs form a small, loosely wrapped cabbage-like head. All three have a somewhat bitter taste.
More About Salad Greens
How to Buy
Salad greens should be crisp with firm outer leaves. They should also smell sweet, not bitter. When possible, purchase unpackaged lettuce.
How to Store
Remove rubber bands or ties to prevent bruising; toss out wilted leaves. Poke a few holes in the plastic bag. Most unwashed greens will keep 3 to 4 days; more delicate greens, such as arugula, should not be refrigerated longer than a day or two.
Trimming and Washing
Pat endives clean with a damp towel. Swish other greens in a large bowl of cold water, and scoop them up with your hands. Repeat until there's no grit left at the bottom.
A salad spinner is the best tool for drying greens thoroughly, but don't overcrowd. If needed, wash and dry leaves a few hours ahead; cover and refrigerate. To hand-dry, drain greens in a colander, then roll gently in paper or clean cloth towels.
Making a Salad
A salad can be as simple as one type of green tossed with a vinaigrette and served as a first course or a side dish; or it can become a main course with the addition of cheese, nuts, and grilled chicken, fish, or meat. If you want a combination of leaves, called a mesclun, mix sweet greens with peppery or bitter ones.
Dressing a Salad
Pour a small amount of dressing in the salad bowl, then toss with greens. Taste, and add more dressing as desired.