2016-06-23 / From The Garden

It’s a Toss-Up!

By Cynthia Gibson


Arugula, also known as rocket, is an early summer vegetable with a slightly peppery taste. It is very hardy and grows quickly. Arugula, also known as rocket, is an early summer vegetable with a slightly peppery taste. It is very hardy and grows quickly. It’s summer salad time, which means we can stop eating lettuce out of bags and plastic containers. Treat yourself to the fresh lettuces and arugula at the farmer’s markets. I never really thought about lettuce much, until the inundation of all the varieties now available at the supermarket. There are now shelves of different types of lettuces, instead of bins of good old iceberg. (Remember iceberg lettuce? Do people still eat it?) It was always crunchy, which was good – but tasteless. Some hybridizer somewhere must be working on a variety that is green, not so white, and more flavorful.

The second best thing to a true green variety of iceberg lettuce would be romaine, which has a mild taste. But it’s not until you get into the smaller leaf lettuces such as arugula that you get excellent choices of flavors.

Arugula, a summer favorite, is spicy in flavor and crunchy in texture if you leave the stems on. Add a chopped boiled egg, bits of freshly crisped bacon and toss with a simple lemon juice dressing. You cannot beat this combination for a brilliant simple salad. To turn it into dinner, add pieces of grilled chicken, shrimp or salmon. Salad made with arugula, or rocket (another name), is great in July when the first tomatoes are ripe.

Sweeter lettuces are the leaf varieties. The standard for an excellent leaf lettuce is green oak leaf, which does not turn to mush once dressing is added in. That is why the sturdy romaine is such a favorite.

Place romaine or your choice of leaf lettuce in a bowl. Add chopped fresh thyme and chopped parsley (both sturdy herbs) and toss with dressing. After plating, re-dress with special sweet lettuce leaves such as red oak leaf or mustardy-tasting Mizuna greens.

Chopped herbs also perk up salads. Fresh rosemary is excellent, but because of its powerful taste do not use too much. Whole basil leaves, chopped dill, sage, or thyme placed on top of your salad will give it a heightened flavor.

Freshly chopped mint is a great herb to add to a salad with cucumbers. There is something about the texture and taste of a luscious cool, peeled and thinly sliced cucumber that goes so well with a chopped mint vinaigrette. With the addition of sliced strawberries, it is excellent, and makes a great lunch salad as well. Add a few roasted pecans on top and it can almost be considered a dessert.

Corn salad goes by many names; it is also known as Mache, lamb’s tongue lettuce, or lamb’s lettuce. Corn salad (or lettuce) is delicate and mild, like butter lettuce. It is great for calming down any overwhelming tastes in a spicy salad.

Butter lettuce, or Boston lettuce, looks like a picture right out of Mr. McGregor’s garden. It is the perfect head of lettuce! The leaves are great for wraps, an alternative to the usual doughy round wrap. Not only does it make a dish refreshing, but it’s also great for watching your waistline.

Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport.

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