The salad I grew up with was assembled using simple arithmetic: 'Iceberg' lettuce plus tomato wedges equals tossed salad. Today, the flavorful array of salad greens available has multiplied the possibilities exponentially. Flipping open a seed catalog, I am tantalized by pages of lettuces and unusual salad greens offering glamorous looks and tastes from sweet to tangy to spicy. Suddenly there are more variables to the equation.
The cresses, including curly cress and 'Wrinkled Crinkled Crumpled' cress, add a sweet pepperiness. Mustards provide a wide range of heat, from the pleasant 'Tendergreen' to the spicy 'Red Giant', which gets stronger as it bolts. The lacy mizuna's degree of zest depends on the variety grown and youthfulness of the leaves. Young radish greens also add a mustardy tone. Choose radish varieties with smoother leaves, like 'Shunkyo Semi-Long' or 'White Icicle'.
Chopped into small pieces and sprinkled into the salad sparingly, a few bitter greens add unexpected pizzazz. Plus, they're beautiful. Crunchy radicchio leaves offer paintbrush swipes of red. Curly endive or frisee, like deeply fringed lettuce with a crisp heart, brings its refreshing sharpness to the salad bowl. Italian dandelion—really a chicory—has long, strappy leaves. The small, bitter leaves gleaned from stalks of bolting lettuces bring a flavorful spark to bowls of blander greens.
Some greens defy categorizing. No salad of mine is complete without arugula. Its characteristic nutty spiciness is mild when young, increasing in strength with maturity. Young shungiku (Chrysanthemum coronarium) leaves add a flowery essence. Cilantro is generally considered an herb, but I use it liberally like a vegetable.