Don’t Dread the Head – by Dorrie Berkowitz, member Tuv Ha’Aretz CSA
In 2016, the per capita consumption of lettuce in the United States was 24.5 pounds. Of that, 13.5 pounds was head lettuce, aka iceberg lettuce. The rest was leaf lettuce, such as romaine, Bibb, and the like.* We are indeed fortunate that the Golden Earthworm farmers provide us with gorgeous, often massive, heads of lovely leafy lettuce. Lots of it. Sometimes we wonder, “How much salad can we eat?! What else can we do with all those heads?”
Start by thinking outside the CSA box. Those cool green beauties are just aching to become a luscious chilled soup. Wait…soup? That’s right, friends, lettuce soup is a great way to use up some of that lettuce, especially if it’s past its prime. Here’s how:
- Creamy Lettuce Soup (adapted from seriouseats.com) Serves 4.
Dice 1 medium onion, slice 1 medium leek (white parts only), and slice 4 garlic cloves. Over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter, and add the vegetables. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Cook until softened, stirring constantly, about 3 minutes. Do not brown.
Add 2 cups of chicken or vegetable stock (packaged stock is just fine!). Bring to a boil and then simmer until the vegetables are very soft and cooked through, about 8 minutes. Then add about 8 ounces of leaf lettuce (romaine works well for this), minus the root end and core. If the ribs are very tough, you can trim those as well, and tear larger leaves into smaller pieces. Stir into the simmering stock and cook until wilted and soft, about 2 minutes.
Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until very smooth. No immersion blender? Let the soup cool a bit and then work in batches in a traditional blender. Adjust the seasoning and chill before serving. (You could serve it warm, too.) Drizzle pesto (made with our CSA herbs) on top and serve with parmesan-dusted garlic toast.
OK – we’re making progress here. What else can you do with lettuce? Go Asian with lettuce soong for dinner. It’s a lettuce roll-up filled with savory ground chicken. Take a look at this version (it sounds complicated but it’s not):
- Lettuce Soong (adapted from rasamalaysia.com) Serves 2.
Combine 1 tablespoon each of soy sauce, oyster sauce or fish sauce, and rice wine, white wine, orsherry, ½ teaspoon sugar, and 1 teaspoon cornstarch in a large bowl. Mix thoroughly and then stir in 1 pound ground chicken, coating all the meat very well. Mix in 2 tablespoons finely minced carrot and 3 finely minced cloves of garlic.
Heat 2-3 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a large skillet. Add the chicken mixture and stir to cook thoroughly, breaking up any lumps into small pieces. Remove the cooked chicken mixture to a clean bowl.
Separate 8 leaves of Bibb or butter lettuce, splitting the lower ribs, if necessary, and arranging them on a plate so they form cups. Place a mound of the chicken mixture in the center of each lettuce cup and roll up the lettuce. Secure each with a toothpick. Serve with hoisin sauce, satay sauce, or sweet chili sauce. Alternatively, leave the cups open and top the chicken with your choice of sauces. Serves 2. (Use any leftover chicken mixture in fried rice another night.)
Let’s keep it going with an easy appetizer:
- Cheese and Salami Roll-Ups Makes 10 roll-ups.
Place 5 large romaine leaves in a baking pan or sheet pan. Cut each in half lengthwise, removing ribs if necessary. Pour hot water over the leaves to wilt them; drain the water, pat the leaves dry, and chill for about 30 minutes.
Remove from the refrigerator and pat dry again, if needed. Spread each with a layer of goat cheese(you’ll need an 8-ounce package), and place a thin slice of Genoa salami on top of each. Roll each leaf and secure with a toothpick. Chill before serving.
“All right, I get it,” you say. “What if I really want a salad?” Then make the salad, but pump up the dressing. Even if you start with basic vinaigrette, switch out your white vinegar and use sherry vinegar or white balsamic vinegar. Whisk in a teaspoon of Dijon mustard for a thicker version. And don’t forget the salt!
Give your salad some heat with a dressing of rice vinegar, a pinch of sugar, a pinch of salt, the juice of half a lime, and a tablespoon (or more) of minced jalapeño. This is especially good when you top off your salad with avocado slices.
Asian flavors return with this miso-ginger dressing, the kind you get on the salad with your sushi lunch special. It’s a little more involved, but well worth the extra work. And you can make a big batch and keep it in the fridge.
Cut 3-4 carrots into small chunks and place in a food processor. Add 6-8 slices of peeled ginger (about a one-inch piece). Pulse until the carrots and ginger are very finely minced. Add ¼ cup rice vinegar and 3 tablespoons white miso paste; process briefly. Then, with the processor running, add 1/3 cup vegetable oil and process until blended. Scrape dressing into a bowl and drizzle with 1 tablespoon sesame oil. This will keep in a jar in the fridge for about 2 weeks.
So this season, embrace your lettuce. Don’t dread the head!
Dorrie Berkowitz is an editor and writer. She and her husband are empty-nesters, except for a very large cat. Dorrie loves to cook, and everyone in the house loves to eat!
*Source: Agricultural Marketing Resource Center