Mesclun is a mixture of young greens. In addition to including lettuce, it may have things like spinach along with savory chicory and sometimes edible flowers as well. Many cultures have a tradition consuming this mixture, especially in the spring, when fresh new growth can be very refreshing after a long, dark winter. Many markets sell mesclun in their produce sections, and it is also possible to grow it at home. By growing it at home, you can control exactly which plants go into the mixture, ensuring a desired flavor.
The word comes from the Provencal French mesclom, which is derived from misculare, a Latin word meaning “to mix.” As the name implies, the primary characteristic of mesclun is that it includes a diverse mixture of greens. Because the greens are young, they tend to be extremely tender and often highly flavorful.
Greens in mesclun can include endive, chicory, frisee, dandelion greens, lettuce, spinach, sorrel, chard, mustard, arugula, radicchio, chervil, and many more. Some mixes also integrate edible flowers, which can range in flavor from spicy nasturtiums to delicate rose petals. In addition to being flavorful and interesting, the diversity of this dish is also healthy, including a rich selection of useful dietary minerals and vitamins. This trait probably explains why mixes of young greens have historically been very popular, especially for pregnant women.
A plate of mesclun is perfectly good on its own, although some people also like to add dressings. Light dressings are definitely recommended, as they allow the flavor of the greens to come through more fully. It is also perfectly acceptable to add ingredients like slices of pears, mandarin wedges, cheeses, roasted vegetables, and so forth; try not to go overboard, however, as you do not want to overwhelm the greens.
When picking out mesclun in a store or farmers' market, look for crisp, healthy leaves with no signs of slime or discoloration, and try to shake up the basket a bit to ensure that you get a good mix. A good store will also have a list of the included greens, giving you an idea of what kind of flavors and textures to expect. You can also grow your own by purchasing seeds for desired greens and planting them in a bed or window box, harvesting tender young leaves as needed. For extra flavor, add herbs like thyme and oregano to the mix.