Remember iceberg lettuce? Whatever happened to that guy? I’ll tell you
what – or rather, who – happened: Todd Koons.

For most of last century, iceberg dominated the American salad greens market. Until
the 1980’s, it made up a whopping 90% of the lettuce eaten in the US! Then
Todd Koons, an ex‐Chez Panisse chef (and ex‐boyfriend of salad queen Alice
Waters) bought a little land in Salinas, CA and started growing exotic leaves of
arugula, mizuna and baby spinach, among others, to blend into a “mesclun
mix” like the ones famously eaten in Provence, France. The problem with
these young, tender greens was that they were fragile and had to be
harvested by hand. They also grew low to the ground, making them dirtier
than the big heads high above the beds. Then, in the late 80’s, Koons
manufactured a mechanical harvester and greens washer that made mass
production of mesclun mixes possible. He also created a self‐sealing bag
system that turned grab‐and‐go salad mixes a full‐blown phenomenon!

The problem remained that these greens had a shelf life of about a week,
which made them a hit in the region, but big markets like Chicago and NYC
were still out of reach. Since then, industrial produce manufacturers have
spent vast sums of money and polymer chemists have made careers out of
tweaking and perfecting what’s known as MAP, or Modified Atmosphere
Packaging. MAP is a complicated project that is best summed up as
maintaining a precise amount of oxygen within a bag of greens: too much, the
greens will wilt; not enough, they will ferment (stinky salad!). This is
accomplished not only during the sealing process, but even before that, when
the bags themselves are manufactured. Those bags aren’t a simple plastic;
they’re actually a complex combination of anywhere between five to ten
different layers, whose polymers bond to and release molecules of oxygen,
nitrogen and carbon dioxide. Great for salads, but for our long‐term health,
I’m skeptical. It all sounds a little mad science‐y to me.

Our salads are picked the day you take them home. We don’t need complex
polymer combinations to keep them fresh. We also blend in a great many
Asian and Italian varietals that you probably won’t find in that Salinas‐grown
bagged mix on the shelves of your local D’Agostinos. We like a nice mix of
sweet tender baby lettuces (red oak leaf, romaine), bitter chicories
(dandelions, castelfranco) and spicy mustards and arugula. This week, we’ve
separated a spicy mustard known as “ruby streaks” and some sylvetta arugula.
These are great as garnishes over roasted fowl or grilled fish, or buzzed into a pesto
of sorts. If you have a brave palate, throw them in with your salad mix for an
extra peppery kick!

And while I offer two dressing recipes below, I feel sort of sacrilegious doing so
because these greens really don’t need much. The best dressing for them is a
simple olive oil, lemon and salt mixture, with maybe a touch of honey. But
that can get boring after a bit, so for something a little less pedestrian, try one
of the preparations below!

This sweet and tangy dressing is perfect for spicy salads like our mix! You can
freeze any leftover in ice cube trays and then transfer to Tupperware. Defrost
at room temp.

Bag o’ salad greens
Bag o’ arugula or ruby streaks
1 cucumber, thinly sliced

1 cup strawberries or raspberries, preferably frozen (just bag ‘em and freeze
for 20min! If freezing fresh berries, reserve a few as garnishes.)
1 cup olive oil
½ cup lemon juice
1 T honey (or more, to taste)
1 T chopped Mint
Salt to taste
1 t fresh ground pink peppercorns

Wash and dry the salad. DRY THE SALAD! Your dressing will not adhere to
wet salad!

Place all ingredients for the dressing in a blender or food processor. Buzz on
high for one minute. Voila!

Toss the salad greens and cuke with the dressing and serve immediately.

Bag o’ salad greens
Handful of purslane, mostly destemmed
2 swiss chard leaves
2 scallions
1 zucchini
1 T chopped parsley
Croutons (see below)

2 large cloves, finely chopped
½ T Dijon mustard
Olive oil
¼ cup white wine
1 T white wine vinegar (red wine vinegar will do in a pinch)
Salt to taste
1 t fresh ground black peppercorns

Wash and dry your greens.
Wash the swiss chard leaves and destem. Chop the stems and place in a
separate bowl. Slice the leaves and toss them in with the salad greens. Chop
the white and light green parts of the scallion. Throw them in the bowl with
the chard stems. Slice the zucchini and combine with the chard stems and
scallions. Chop the parsley and add into this bowl as well.

Tear your bread up into rough shapes and put in a bowl. Drizzle olive oil over
the croutons and sprinkle salt all over. On a cookie tray, lay out parchment or
foil and put the torn bread on it. Put in oven and turn every few minutes until
golden, about 15 minutes. Set aside.

Place the chopped garlic in a coffee mug with a sprinkle of salt and smash with
the business end of a wooden spoon. Mix in the mustard. Drizzle ½ cup of oil
in while whisking with a fork. Whisk in the white wine and vinegar. Season
with salt and pepper, to taste.

Drizzle the greens with olive oil and toss to coat until uniformly glossy. Pour
about ¾ of the dressing over the bowl of greens and toss till evenly coated.
Place a heaping serving on four salad plates.
Drizzle the remaining dressing over the bowl of zucchini, scallions, chard stems
and parsley. Place a spoonful of each atop the plates of salad. Garnish with a
few croutons.


  1. This week’s recipe was inspired by Botanical Interests Early Spring Green Fix Seed Collection . As a novice gardener and self-proclaimed foodie, I’m anxious for the first fresh vegetables of the season. This early Spring mix includes some of my favorites— broccoli raab (a.k.a. Rapini), young tender dwarf blue kale , fragrant parsley , sugar snap peas , and a lesser known salad green, called mache — just to name a few. I can think of no better way to kick off the first week of Spring than featuring a recipe that pays homage to the first delicious greens of a new growing season.

  2. You actually make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this matter to be actually something which I think I would never understand. It seems too complicated and very broad for me. I’m looking forward for your next post, I�ll try to get the hang of it!

  3. Excellent resource, very much appreciated bookmarked!

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