i’m not an expert on buying lettuce, but i feel like it is similar to buying art — buy what moves you. pre-cut and pre-washed lettuce is certainly a time-saver to have on hand, but in order to really expand your tastebuds, you’re going to want to have the freedom to buy whole heads of lettuce. it opens up the variety of lettuces that you can buy, no matter where you’re shopping.
my go-to mode of operation is to buy whatever looks good. if you’re at the farmer’s market, the vendor will likely let you pinch off a leaf to try the lettuce to see if you like it. pro tip: chat with your vendor, often a farmer! they love to chat about their produce. the one problem with tasting the leaf by itself, of course, is that you cannot taste what the synergistic effect, that pairing with a good vinaigrette, can do for the leaf. try it if you’re unsure. are you looking for a sweet or bitter lettuce? something hardy or delicate? to me, these decisions come down to how you want to serve the lettuce and what you feel like eating.
so, think about what you’re in the mood for. is it something that you toss with a creamy dressing? then think sturdy leaves that will hold up to the dressing. if you’re in the mood for something sweet, perhaps a more delicate leaf paired with a vinaigrette or simply vinegar, honey, and walnut oil. the possibilities are endless there, which is why it’s important to get in tune with yourself to figure out what it is you want.
for example: which leaves look the most enticing? this is how i always end up with chicories, which are becoming my favorite lettuce over romaine — the workhorse of a salad-filled kitchen. if you’re at the grocery store instead of the farmer’s market, google what is in season right now for your area and time of year to ensure you’re getting the freshest greens! if you’re at the farmer’s market, you’ll already be looking at what’s in season, which makes the choice easier. not to mention, plenty of food enthusiasts nearby who are happy to chat with you about it.
at the end of the day, find a head of lettuce that does not have a brown base, and that doesn’t look like too many of the leaves are browning. keep in mind you’ll remove the outermost leaves. take your lettuce home, trim the unappetizing parts off, and soak the leaves in a large, ice cold bowl of water. remove the leaves, let them dry, then store them in the fridge, in an airtight container with a paper towel to absorb any excess moisture.
get creative with your dressings! i try to eat one large serving of leafy greens per day, at least. having a salad a day makes that easy! and having a fun leaf around to depend on for that, makes life exciting! remember – you can always sauté your greens and add a little bit of salt and fat to them (like butter or olive oil and garlic) for an extra tasty treat and a meal full of greens.