Arugula Alternatives – Exploring Mesclun
Personally I like arugula. It has a wonderful mineral rich taste, like most good salad greens, and I enjoy it’s peppery bite. But perhaps it’s not your thing. If that’s the case you shouldn’t stop your exploration of salad greens with arugula. Pick up a bag of mesclun mix and begin experimenting with all of the fabulous types of greens available for you to create your perfect salad.
Mesclun is a mixture of tender young greens that originated in the south of France. Traditionally it was made from a variety of wild lettuce growing on the slopes near the Mediterranean in the springtime and early summer.
It is said that the first mix of wild lettuce known as mesclun was created by the Franciscan monks at the Cimiez monastery in Nice. According to the legend, these monks were so poor that they had nothing to offer in return for the alms they received from the local population. Even their garden was pitifully unprosperous and produced nothing to share. So the impoverished monks took to the fields gathering a variety of wild leaves to create a tasty, nutritious salad., and thus mesclun was created.
These days there are still people that gather wild lettuce, but you needn’t go to so much trouble. In France mesclun can be bought at the grocery store, pre-washed and ready to eat, and I imagine you can find a similar product at your local grocery store. North American mesclun mixes tend to feature milder tasting lettuces, but you should be able to find all of these interesting greens if you look. They are all worth trying.
A French mesclun mix will typically feature a variety of leaves and might include a few herbs as well. Here’s a list of possibilities along with their French names.
- Escarole – Scarole
- Chicory – Chicorée
- Lamb’s Lettuce – Mache
- Dandelion Greens – Pissenlit
- Chervil – Cerfeuil
- Young Spinach – Epinard
- Radicchio – Trévise
- Arugula – Roquette
- Purslane – Pourpier
- Oak Leaf – Feuille de Chene
One of the best things about these greens is that they are nutrition packed, far more so then iceberg lettuce for example. Most are high in vitamin A and C as well as in folate and minerals. If you’re looking to boost your vitamin intake and improve your health, these greens can be a tasty place to start.
How to Best Enjoy Mesclun
Mesclun greens all have good flavor on their own. There is no need to use a heavy salad dressing with these — they go better with a drizzle of vinaigrette. For variety add a simple second ingredient, such as croutons, smoked salmon, warm goat cheese, crumbled bacon, or toasted nuts.
Hungry Yet? Mix up a salad of your favorite mixed greens, pour on a fresh vinaigrette, add a loaf of whole grain bread, and a good French cheese, and you’ll have a perfect light and easy meal ready in no time.