Alex Eats: Salad

alex guarnaschelli

Every week, Alex Guarnaschelli, host of Alex's Day Off , shares with readers what she's eating -- whether it's from the farmers' market or fresh off the boat, she'll have you craving everything from comfort food to seasonal produce.

Choose lettuces that are bright green and firm -- saggy, browning leaves are the hallmark of vegetables on their way to the compost pile. If the outer leaves of a head of lettuce are ragged, peel away a layer or two to see if the heart is worth saving. To make lettuce last longer, keep it dry and cool in a dark place. It's important not to wash or mix lettuce with anything acidic (lemon or vinegar) until right before eating.

Iceberg: I really love iceberg lettuce. I love a good wedge with blue cheese; it makes me feel American. I also love chopping iceberg and mixing it with scallions, fresh chiles or a really vibrant dressing. It has a great, juicy texture and, on its own, is pretty bland. To me, it’s nice to have a lettuce that can meld with bold flavors.

Watercress: Don’t let the light, leafy look of watercress fool you into thinking it's just filler in the boxed-salad aisle. Watercress, with small stems and delicate leaves, packs a relatively peppery, sharp flavor and a ton of iron, sulfur, calcium and vitamins. Toss it with other leaves as part of a mixed salad or use it as a brightener for ham or turkey sandwiches. It also makes a killer soup when cooked with some leeks, vegetable stock and a splash of cream and lemon juice.

Mustard Greens: At the stronger end of the intensity spectrum as far as green leafy vegetables go, mustard greens have an almost spicy heat. Tear them into small pieces and toss them with some sliced tomatoes and goat cheese for a more interesting option than arugula or basil. The top part of the leaves is the most tender for salad.

In the mood for a warm salad? Try frisee, the curly, floppy-looking yellow and green head and dandelion, long greens with spiky leaves. Both are delicious when grilled quickly or roasted. Cut the root end off, wash thoroughly, lightly oil and drop them on the grill for a few minutes. A sprinkle of salt, pepper and lemon juice, and these greens can be the start of a great warm salad.

[Photo: Polka Dot Images]