At this time of year there is a good selection of salad leaves available. But what is the best way to make use of them? Do they taste the same or are their flavours really distinctive? Are leaves just a decorative alternative to lettuce? What dressing goes best with which leave? These are all questions we hope to answer, so read on…
Chard is related to spinach, and ruby chard has veins and stems which look stained blood-red. It has a glossier, firmer texture than baby spinach and a sharper taste, which combines well with sweet, peppery or bitter leaves. It goes well with creamy yoghurt dressings or a ‘hot’ dressing of onion, cumin and garlic.
Rocket tastes pungent and peppery and has a pleasant bite. It is good for salads with strong Mediterranean ingredients such as olives, pecorino or parmesan cheese or roasted vegetables. Wild roquette is less refind with a stronger taste and it goes well with goat’s cheese, pasta, fish or meat.
Romain is a lettuce with long, thin leaves and a crisp mild rib. It is sweet and makes an ideal base for a mixed or simple lettuce salad. It should be left whole or torn into small pieces rather than being cut with a knife, as this turns the edges brown. It is complemented by a creamy dressing.
This looks a little like a paler version of rocket as it has the same jagged-edged, indented leaves, but its taste is different: hot and mustardy, yet fresh and green. An oriental vegetable, mizuna can be stir-fried, but it is best fresh and goes well with sweet oriental dressings.
This is another oriental vegetable, used in western salads in its baby form, it is green or red. It has a mild, mustardy bite, and is less strongly flavoured than rocket or watercress. It goes well with grilled meats, seafood or raw vegetables.
Red Oak Leaf
The red oak is a loose-hearted lettuce, and its deeply indented leaves are shaded and splashed with red. It has a soft texture and works well in a classic green salad with a simple oil and vinegar dressing, or with more strongly flavoured leaves to give balance.
Baby leaf spinach
Baby spinach is becoming a popular salad leaf. It is successful with eggs and tomatoes, and in lentil or bean salads. The leaves are good in warm salads with grilled cheese, meat or crispy bacon.
Watercress is good as a garnish on its own when its familiar dark leaf and sharp, peppery flavour can be appreciated. It goes well with hard-boiled eggs and mayonnaise. Watercress and mayonnaise are also good with roast chicken, salmon and prawns. Try it with a walnut oil vinaigrette.
Also known as ‘corn salad’, this leaf has a texture not unlike baby spinach. It is good in salads with cooked vegetables – especially potatoes and beetroot. Its mild flavour goes well with a mustard dressing.