lettuce.jpgIt’s a beautiful sunshine-y day, so let’s celebrate Foodie Friday with a closer look at the first spring vegetable to come up in the garden – lettuce! 

Lettuce is an extremely healthful food. It is almost 90 percent water, so it hydrates your body as it nourishes.  Darker lettuces contain folate, beta carotene, vitamin C, potassium, and certain flavanoids (those feel-good, disease-fighting natural chemicals).  And, because they’re so water-rich, lettuce is practically a calorie-free food: 4 oz (which is plenty of lettuce) only costs you 13 calories.

I know what you’re thinking: “The lettuce isn’t my caloric problem, it’s the gloppy, creamy dressing I smother my salads with that’s my downfall.”  My response to that is, get better lettuce!  If you think outside the iceberg and choose lettuces that are flavorful as well as convenient delivery vehicles for heavy dressings, you’ll dress them less and savor them more. 

So, think of dressing as a complement to the lettuce, not a cover-up of it.  And rejoice: a simple dressing of olive oil and lemon juice brings the benefits of a “good fat” (which studies show can actually help your body absorb the nutrients in some vegetables) and…well, take your pick for the health benefits of lemons!

Not sure which lettuce to choose?  Here’s a guide to some of the pretty leaves that await you at your grocery store, farmer’s market, or backyard garden:

Romaine

Romaine might be the most widely recognizable non-iceberg lettuce variety.  It grows in dark, long heads, and each leaf has a sturdy rib that can be cut out if you are looking for a more delicate salad.  Inner leaves are more delicate, and not as strongly flavored. Romaine lettuce, the lettuce of choice for Caesar salads, is sometimes called “Cos” lettuce, since it is believed to have first been cultivated on the Greek island of Cos.

Arugula/Rocket

This long, skinny loose-leaf green, notable for its spike-y, lobe-y shape, is a Mediterranean native, but grows easily in any number of climates.  It is maybe the strongest-flavored of all lettuces, boasting a bold, peppery flavor that is delicious with cheeses, other lettuces, and in all manner of salads.  It also is strong enough to hold up to brief cooking, even if it’s just wilted under a hot piece of grilled meat. 

Red Leaf

This is the most nutritious variety of lettuce, since its dark color carries the beta carotene that is so good for healthy eyes.  A loose leaf variety, red leaf lettuce is delicate, though its ruffled shape makes it pleasing to eat–and its color makes any salad plate more interesting.

Bibb

Bibb is the best known of a family of lettuces called “butterhead.”  These lettuces grow in loose heads, and carry flavor that is very distinctive and can only be described as “buttery.”  The leaves of Bibb lettuce are extremely delicate, and because they have a short shelf life and are fragile, you may pay more at the market for this variety.

What’s your favorite type of lettuce?  And how do you dress your salads?

(image via: http://www.finecooking.com/articles/in-season-spring-lettuce.aspx)

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