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Archive for March 21, 2017

TIP OF THE DAY: DIY Wedge Salad Bar & Different Types Of Lettuce

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, restaurant menus offered hearts of lettuce salad with creamy dressings. The head was cut into quarters and plated with a slice of tomato for color.

Homemakers were fans, too.

  • The iceberg heads were sold fully trimmed, with little waste.
  • It was easy to cut into wedges or slice into shreds.
  • Although some people tore it into pieces, “The Joy Of Cooking” admonished: “Heads of iceberg lettuce are not separated. They are cut into wedge-shaped pieces, or into crosswise slices.”
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    The lettuce’s crunch was very popular, if bland-tasting (solution: lots of dressing!). The heads kept longer in the fridge, so there was no wilted waste.

    Even James Beard was a fan, recommending the crisp texture mixed with other greens.

    Then came the California cuisine movement, introducing us to better varieties to eat. Iceberg was mocked for lacking flavor.

    Instead, foodies filled their shopping carts with romaine plus arugula and radicchio.

    Yet, hardy, crunchy iceberg still accounts for 70% of the lettuces raised in California (down from 80% in the mid-1970s, however). It’s still popular in foodservice (commercial, institutional), at salad bars and casual restaurants.

    And thanks to the retro food movement of the past decade, iceberg has returned to restaurant menus beyond the steakhouse, in the hearts of lettuce salad now known by a trendier name: wedge salad.

    Let the wedge salad add fun and crunch to your meals. If you have a daily dinner salad, feature the wedge once a week. Turn it into a DIY salad buffet for family and guests. An ingredients list is below.
     
    WEDGE SALAD HISTORY

    The crisphead (iceberg) lettuce variety is relatively new in the history of lettuce cultivation (see the different categories of lettuce, below).

    Crisphead lettuce was a mutation: A grower discovered a different-looking, sweeter-tasting head of lettuce in his field.

    Liking its flavor and superior crispness, he teamed with other growers to breed it to be even better. Thus was born what we today call iceberg lettuce.

    The new variety became a top seller, and remains so. It was called crisphead, its given varietal name, until the 1920s. It subsequently acquired the name iceberg because of its ability to be transported for long distances when packed on ice.

    Before the iceberg named settled in, it was also called cabbage lettuce, for its resemblance to cabbage. In 1894, a Burpee seed catalog exclaimed, “There is no handsomer or more solid Cabbage Lettuce in cultivation.”

    Numerous varieties of crisphead were developed, including varieties with reddish leaves tinged with green and varieties with scalloped edges. While they did not enter the mass market, you can still buy the seeds from specialty sellers.

    Now about the wedge salad:

    Period cookbooks, newspapers and culinary reference books date the popularity of iceberg lettuce salads to the 1920s.

    But the general consensus is that the wedge salad with creamy dressing became a ubiquitous menu entry in the 1950s. [source]

    Who served the first “hearts of lettuce salad,” as it was then called?

    Likely it was a steak house, given the popularity of that type of restaurant in the 1950s and the [still] ubiquitous presence on those menus. But as with so many things, we can only give credit to “an unknown cook.”

       

    Wedge Salad

    Wedge Salad

    Iceberg Lettuce

    [1] A California Wedge Salad with avocado, prosciutto crumbles and ranch dressing (here’s the recipe from Little Broken). [2] A BLT Wedge Salad from Applegate also has avocado and bacon with ranch dressing (here’s the recipe). Note that these are two different recipe names with the same ingredients. [3] The ubiquitous head of iceberg lettuce: Just quarter it for your wedge salad (photo Good Housekeeping).

     

    Boston Lettuce

    Red Leaf Lettuce

    Romaine

    [4] Boston lettuce, a variety of butterhead. [5] Red leaf lettuce, a variety of leaf lettuce. [6] Romaine lettuce (photos courtesy Good Housekeeping).

     

    DIY WEDGE SALAD BAR

    At THE NIBBLE, we’ve added a lot to the simple wedge salad. Call it a DIY, customized or signature wedge salad, it’s a fun munch.

    The Must Haves

  • Iceberg lettuce wedges
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Creamy dressings: blue cheese, thousand island/Russian, ranch
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    Nice Additions

  • Avocado
  • Bacon, any type (the different types of bacon)
  • Cheeses: crumbled blue cheese or feta, shaved parmesan
  • Croutons
  • Veggies: peppadews or pimentos, red onion or scallions
  • Watercress
  •  
    For A Main Dish

  • Hard boiled egg halves (the quarters tend to fall apart)
  • Ham or turkey, julienned or cubed
  •  
    Garnishes

  • Fried Chinese noodles
  • Frizzled onions
  • Fresh herbs (basil, chives, dill, tarragon)
  • Nuts and seeds: candied walnuts, pepitas, spiced pecans, salted peanuts, any toasted nuts
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    THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF LETTUCE

    There four basic types: butterhead, iceberg, leaf, and romaine, along with hundreds of hybrids bred from them.

    Iceberg Lettuce: Also known as crisped lettuce, this is the crispest and hardiest of lettuces varieties. It lasts twice as long in the fridge as long as most other varieties. The downside: It’s not as flavorful or nutritious as other lettuces.

     

    Butterhead Lettuce: Comprising Boston and Bibb Lettuces, these are small, loosely formed heads of soft, supple leaves. Boston is a larger and fluffier head than Bibb; Bibb is the size of a fist, and sweeter than Boston. Both are excellent for lettuce cups. The down side: They’re highly perishable and bruise easily; and are pricier than iceberg and romaine.

    Leaf Lettuce: This category does not form a head; the leaves branch up from a single stalk. The leaves are very tender and are often seen in baby lettuce blends. The burgundy tint of red leaf lettuce and the spicier, nuttier oak leaf lettuce adds charming color to a mixed green salad. The downside: Leaf lettuces are more perishable than head lettuces and wilt easily.

    Romaine Lettuce: Second in crunchiness to iceberg lettuce, romaine is a stalk lettuce like leaf lettuce, with a pleasant bitterness. The crunchy center ribs make the leaves sturdy; and when the outer leaves are trimmed, the smaller ones (sold as hearts of romaine) can be used as “boats” to hold protein salads (egg, chicken, tuna, etc.).

      

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    PRODUCTS: 5 New Specialty Food Favorites

    Every week new products arrive at THE NIBBLE. Most are good if not noteworthy. Some are so good that they become part of our personal shopping list.

    In alphabetical order, here are five favorites of the last few weeks:

    1. CAVA GRILL MEDITERRAEAN DIPS & SPREADS

    Cava Grill, a casual Mediterranean restaurant chain with locations on the East Coast an California, is now selling a dozen of its popular dips and spreads. You can find them at Whole Foods Markets and other specialty markets (here’s a store locator).

    Choose from:

  • Dips/Spreads: Crazy Feta, Eggplant & Roast Pepper, Harissa, Tzatziki.
  • Hummus Flavors: Greek Yogurt, Kalamata, Roasted Garlic, Roasted Red Pepper, Spicy, Traditional.
  • Organic Flavors: Organic Caramelized Onion Hummus, Organic Traditional.
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    One of our favorite light dinners is to serve as many varieties as we want with fresh pita, accompanied by a lettuce salad with bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, red onion, vinaigrette and chopped fresh herbs; capers and olives optional.

    Or, uncork some wine and invite friends and neighbors for a wine break.

    See the whole line at Cava.com.
     
     
    2. LACTAID MINT CHOCOLATE CHIP ICE CREAM

    Ice cream is one of our favorite foods, and every day we bless Lactaid for an excellent (and well-priced) line. Every flavor is a winner.

    We recently had our first quart of Lactaid Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream, and it’s the best supermarket mint chocolate chip ice cream we can recommend: truly refreshing, with lively mint flavor and toothsome chunks of chocolate.

    You don’t have to have lactose sensitivity to enjoy Lactaid dairy products. The cottage cheese, ice cream and milk taste just like any other quality products. (Lactaid dudes: We need cream cheese and sour cream, too.)

    The only difference is that a minute amount of lactase, the natural enzyme that helps people digest milk products—is added. You can taste it; no one would know the difference.

    Check out the other Lactaid ice cream flavors. Salted Caramel Chip is another must-try.

     
     
    3. NESTLÉ DAMAK CHOCOLATE BARS WITH PISTACHIOS

    The Damak brand of chocolate was established in Turkey in 1933. Turkey is the world’s third largest producer of pistachio nuts (after Iran and the U.S.), and the bars, in milk or dark chocolate, are packed with the nutritious little nuggets.

    The 2.82-ounce square-ish bars are something not readily available in the U.S.: pistachio chocolate bars at the suggested retail price of $2.49. The name, pronounced DUH-mok, is Turkish for “taste.”

    Nestlé, which now owns the brand, has committed a million dollars to teach Turkish pistachio farmers more effective agricultural techniques to improve and increase harvests.

    See more at NestleDamak.com.
     
     
    4. NOOSA YOGHURT

    Noosa has been one of our favorite yogurt lines since it first popped up in the U.S. via Australia, where yogurt is spelled with an “h” (see our review).

    Each new flavor the brand introduces is better than the last (although the Mexican Chocolate Yoghurt has yet to be topped on our personal list).

    New flavors this season:

  • Orange Ginger
  • Pear Cardamom
  • Strawberry Hibiscus
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    Cava Grill Dips & Spreads

    Lactaid Mint Chocolate Chip

    Nestle Damak Pistachio Chocolate Bars

    Nonni's Limoncello Pistachio Biscotti

    Noosa Orange Ginger Yoghurt

    [1] Cava Grill Mediterranean Dips (photo Cava). [2] Nestle Damak pistachio chocolate bars (photo Nestle). [3] Lactaid Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream (photo Lactaid). [4] Nonni’s Limoncello Pistachio Biscotti (photo Nonni’s Foods). [5] Orange-Ginger, one of three new Noosa Yoghurt flavors (photo Noosa).

     
    But every flavor hits the spot, and all are delicious enough to be served as a creamy dessert as well as breakfast, lunch and snack fare. See them all at NoosaYoghurt.com.
     
     
    5. NONNI’S BISCOTTI

    Nonni’s, the nation’s leading biscotti baker, salutes spring with two new limited-batch flavors.

  • Nonni’s White Chocolate Cherry Biscotti are filled with cherries and white chocolate and drizzled with white chocolate icing.
  • Nonni’s Limoncello Pistachio Biscotti are made with chopped pistachios and lemon peel zest, then dipped and drizzled inwhite chocolate.
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    The biscotti are a softer style that are easy on the teeth, and are individually wrapped for grab-and-go.

    Check out the entire line at Nonnis.com.

      

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