Mesclun-the name means "mixed" in French-is the traditional combination of baby lettuces available year-round in most supermarkets. But during spring, when newly sprouted baby lettuces begin to appear at local farmers' markets, it's possible to appreciate the particular characteristics of individual varieties. Bibb is a delicate, buttery leaf; arugula is a long, spiky, mildly bitter one; crisp romaine is ideal for Caesar salads; watercress has a bright, peppery flavor; and mizuna has a gentle spicy zing. And those are just a few of the more widely grown varieties. The distinctive flavor of a green early in the growing season tends to hold as the lettuce matures, but baby greens are sweeter and have a much more concentrated flavor than mature greens. In texture, baby greens are more delicate, refined, and tender than mature lettuces. Best when eaten raw, baby lettuces are ideal in salads and sandwiches, while mature lettuces can withstand the heat of cooking. Most farmers sell both individual baby greens and mixed greens, allowing you to pick and choose as you please. See 16 Recipes for Spring Lettuce Varieties »
Lettuce likes a cool climate and continually reseeds itself throughout the growing season, so beginning in March in warmer areas, and all the way through the summer in cooler ones, baby greens are usually available.
Simple salads are always the way to go with spring lettuces; the lighter the dressing, the better. Let the pure taste of the young greens shine.
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- Look for fresh, tender green leaves that have not begun to wilt or slime. The greener the leaf, the more beta-carotene it contains and the healthier it is for you.
- Do not store for more than two days; lettuce should be eaten immediately, while it is fresh and crisp.
- To prepare baby lettuces, wash them thoroughly in very cold water and pat dry.
Farmers' markets and supermarkets are the best places to find spring lettuces.
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FEATURED SPRING LETTUCE RECIPES
Frisée Salad with Poached Eggs and Bacon
Slivers of bacon create a pleasing taste and textural contrast in this classic French bistro salad.
5 ½" -thick slices thick-cut bacon, sliced crosswise into ½" -wide strips
1 tbsp. white wine vinegar
4 large eggs
1 tbsp. finely chopped shallots
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
2 tsp. dijon mustard
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
½ lb. frisée greens, torn into medium-size pieces
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1. Combine bacon and 1 cup water in a 12" skillet over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring, until water evaporates and bacon crisps, 30-40 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to a plate. Reserve fat in skillet.
2. Prepare eggs for poaching: Bring a 4-quart saucepan of water to a boil; add vinegar; reduce heat to medium-low. Crack each egg into its own ramekin and set aside. (Don't cook the eggs yet.)
3. In a medium bowl, whisk together shallots, lemon juice, mustard, and 3 tbsp. reserved bacon fat. While whisking, slowly drizzle in the olive oil to make a smooth vinaigrette. Season with salt and pepper. In a large bowl, toss frisée with vinaigrette. Divide frisée and bacon between 4 plates.
4. In the saucepan, swirl simmering water with a spoon to create a whirlpool effect. Slide 2 eggs into water; cook until just firm, about 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, top first 2 salads with 1 egg apiece; repeat with remaining eggs. Season salads with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.
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Mesclun Salad with Goat Cheese and Balsamic Vinaigrette
Mesclun-a combination of slightly bitter baby greens and other greens like mizuna, arugula, and oak leaf-became all the rage in restaurants during the 1990s, eventually making its way onto supermarket produce shelves across the United States. This recipe incorporates other popular ingredients-goat cheese, pecans, dried cranberries-all dressed with balsamic vinaigrette. Get the recipe»
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Quinoa Salad with Frisée, Eggplant, and Corn
This quinoa recipe, developed by SAVEUR.com contributor Judy Haubert, combines gluten-free quinoa with sautéed eggplant and a light Asian lime vinaigrette. Get the recipe»
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Mixed Green Salad with Fresh Horseradish Dressing
This salad tastes great with mixed greens or any single varietal you find at the market. Depending on the strength of your fresh horseradish, add it to the dressing to taste. Get the recipe»
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Goose Confit Salad with Figs
This salad, adorned with French-style goose confit and fresh figs, makes a hearty meal when paired with a simple soup and fresh bread. If you prefer chicken, it's equally delicious when made with chicken breast or thighs. Get the recipe»
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