Culinary Arts

Cooking 101: What Is Mesclun? Learn About the Characteristics of Mesclun and Alice Waters’s Mesclun Salad Recipe

Written by MasterClass

Jun 21, 2019 • 3 min read

The leafy greens section of the grocery store or farmer’s market can be overwhelming. Pairing a variety of greens adds flavor and texture to a salad mix—but what should you choose? In France, where salads are paired with every meal, farmer’s markets are proliferated with mesclun: a mix of young tender greens perfect for crafting salads.

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What Is Mesclun?

Mesclun is a Provençal word that describes a mix of tender salad greens and herbs. It derives from the French word “mesclar,” which means “mixture.”

Traditionally, a mesclun blend includes arugula, chervil, oak leaf, and mâche. It can also be made of a combination of different greens including dandelion greens, frisée, endive, baby spinach, collard greens, mustard greens, radicchio, kale, and more. Mesclun mix can be store bought under the moniker “spring mix.”

What Is the Provenance of Mesclun?

Mesclun originated in France, where farmers would bring their prized mixes of baby greens to the farmer’s markets. Mesclun is the mix of greens that inspired Alice Waters to bring salad to Chez Panisse, which helped popularize salad in the US. Alice brought seeds back from France and planted her entire backyard with lettuces in order to recreate the mesclun salads she’d had in Provence and could not find in the US. She starting putting the mesclun salad on Chez Panisse’s menu and promoting the French tradition that a salad goes with every meal.

Different varieties of mixed greens are part of cuisines around the globe. For example, “misticanza” is the Italian equivalent of mesclun. Asian greens such as baby tatsoi, bok choy, and mizuna are paired in Asia.

What Are the Characteristics of Mesclun?

Mesclun can be made from a blend of different types of wild and cultivated plants with varying tastes, colors, and textures. There is one defining characteristic of the greens used for mesclun mixes—they are tender leaves, usually the first to sprout. Herbs are mixed in with greens to add flavor. Sorrel, fennel, and chives are common additives.

Gardeners can purchase seeds pre-mixed to produce mesclun blends that are tangy, sweet, or have a peppery kick. Home cooks can design mesclun mixes to fit desired flavor profiles.

  • A mix containing arugula and watercress, for example, will lead to a peppery taste.
  • Add collard greens for a tangy flavor.
  • Curly endives, romaine, and chicory can be used to attain a bitter taste.
  • For a more mild blend, use leaf lettuces such as Bibb or Boston, which is sweet.
  • To attain a piquant flavor, add mizuna or mustard greens.
  • Red chard will add en element of salt, and rainbow chard can add color to your mesclun blend.

4 Ways to Use Mesclun in Cooking

Mesclun can be used for so much more than just a salad—it can add a bit of crunch and flavor, and not to mention nutrients and vitamins, to many dishes.

Try incorporating mesclun into your meal plan in the following four ways:

  1. Create a bed of mesclun greens for eggs, or for an entrée of poultry or fish.
  2. Toss mild tender greens into a smoothie.
  3. Kick up a sandwich with a layer of mesclun.
  4. Add wilted greens to a bowl of lentils or rice.

Alice Waters’s Mesclun Salad Recipe

  • 6 generous handfuls mesclun mix, washed and dried
  • 4 tablespoons vinaigrette
  • Sea salt
  • Fresh-ground black pepper

For the mesclun mix, combine delicate lettuces and herbs, including rocket, chervil, and frisée, for a variety of textures and flavors. In cool seasons, add hardier leaves of varieties such as chicories and radicchios, if you like.

When ready to serve, put the lettuce in a wide salad bowl. Pour half of the vinaigrette over the salad leaves and toss gently to coat, using your hands. The leaves should be lightly coated with dressing so they glisten. Taste the salad. If you need to, pour additional dressing over the salad and toss again. Add salt and pepper, if needed. Sprinkle the salad with the petals of the edible flowers, if you have them. Eat immediately.

Learn how to prepare a beautiful salad in Alice Waters’s MasterClass.