Cart Smarts: Pick the variety of lettuce that suits you

May 8, 2019

It is finally gardening season again! Along with flowers, I also look forward to planting my vegetable garden every year. Lettuce is one of my favorites and is so versatile.

Lettuce is one of the easiest vegetables to grow from seed, and it takes very little effort to get a great crop of garden fresh lettuce. Lettuce can be planted earlier than many other crops since it does best in cooler temperatures.

It grows best in part shade, but will tolerate full sun in the spring. The intense summer sun will burn the leaves, and lettuce will bolt (start to flower) and become inedible in the heat of summer. Lettuce is hardy so it can survive minor frost in early spring and fall. So, as soon as the ground is workable in the spring, plant away!

Here are some of the many varieties available:

• Leaf lettuce. Leaves branch from a single stalk. More perishable than head varieties. Often referred to as “baby lettuce,” mesclun and spring mixes because of its tenderness. Postpone dressing until just before serving.

• Romaine. Long, slightly bitter leaves and sturdy, sweet center provide crunch to any meal. Mainly used in Caesar salad since it holds up to heavier dressings.

• Iceberg. Crisp and hearty but not as flavorful as other lettuces. Keeps for up to two weeks when unwashed and stored in a plastic bag in the fridge (twice as long as other lettuces). Look for firm, densely packed heads that are heavy for their size. Cut into wedges and serve it the classic steakhouse way: drizzled with a little dressing.

• Boston. Small, round, loosely formed heads with soft supple leaves. Larger and fluffier than Bibb, but both types make perfect cups for cooked ground chicken or shrimp.

• Bibb. Sweet flavor, extra small (size of a fist), expensive, twice the price of iceberg

• Kale. It’s not technically “lettuce.” One cup provides an entire day’s worth of vitamin A and C, plus calcium and iron. Has a somewhat bitter taste. Can be used in salads or smoothies, or the leaves can be roasted with a little olive oil.

• Arugula. Also called rocket or Italian cress. Has a peppery taste, so best when paired with lemony dressings. Goes great in pesto, on top of pizza or in a sandwich.

• Spinach. Very versatile, packs in powerful heart-healthy nitrates that can help improve cholesterol and reduce risk of chronic disease. Add more to your diet by adding to eggs, chicken and stir fry and smoothies.

• Radicchio. Goes by multiple names including leaf chicory and Italian chicory. Purple in color and bitter when eaten fresh, but sweeter when grilled or roasted.

• Endives. A relative of radicchio. Scoop up toppings with its spoon-shaped leaves or can be roasted with olive oil and a little balsamic vinegar.

• Frisee. Belongs to the radicchio/endive/chicory family. Has very green, curly leaves perfect for tossing in a vinaigrette dressing or adding to other lettuce mixes.