Head lettuces like romaine and iceberg as well as many leafy greens, from ordinary spinach to exotic popcorn plants, are being grown in miniature sizes or harvested at an immature stage. Small is big news on restaurant menus, with chefs embracing these diminutive salad ingredients to ratchet up presentation and flavor.
Microgreens are a broad term for salad greens that are picked when they are only 14 to 20 days old. There are about 80 different varieties, ranging in flavor from buttery and mild to spicy and peppery. Melissa's Head lettuces are being grown in miniature sizes or harvested at an immature stage.ypically supplies about 20 types of microgreens, with the white tablecloth restaurants their biggest customers. In greatest demand are arugula, bull's blood, mizuna, popcorn, pea leaves and shoots, tatsoi, watercress, mustard greens, red beet, golden chard and rainbow (a mix of several). Fresh herbs such as basil, chives and cilantro can be picked in tiny form, too, and are often included in microgreen blends.
Whole-leaf baby greens are a premium product with little waste. These are picked at around 35 days old, not cut, so the whole leaf remains intact. Available in both organic and conventional styles, there are about a dozen different baby greens on the market, including spinach, arugula and assorted lettuces.
Iceberg Babies resemble their bigger namesakes in appearance and texture, but they're slightly sweeter in flavor and closer in size to a softball. They're the ideal size for an individual serving and make a dramatic statement when hollowed out and filled with salad ingredients, dips and hot mixtures.
Radicchio, a small redhead with a slightly bitter edge, was all the rage a few years back. While the round grapefruit-sized radicchio is still going strong, a couple of new varieties are expanding the niche. All are members of the chicory family (which also includes endive).
One of those, treviso, grows in an elongated head like endive. It's dark red in color with white ribs and is milder than the original. It's used both raw and grilled in salads.
The rarer tardivo is cultivated from the treviso variety. Like its creamy-colored Belgian endive cousin, it's forced to form new leaves in the absence of light, creating a paler end product. Castelfranco is another pale member of the radicchio family, it has yellowish-cream leaves speckled with red. The lettuce-like ball unfolds like a rose and is delicate in flavor and texture.