Susan Ardis

Lettuce eat

From soup to salad to sandwiches, it’s full of leafy green goodness

April 20, 2011 

I love lettuce.

When I was thinking about what to put in the garden this year, counting the number of containers that I had available, I noticed that I had a couple of volunteer red leaf lettuces coming up. I had let one plant go to seed last season and was pleasantly surprised to see that fate had taken charge and now I had two decent sized lettuces growing.

When the weather turns hot (and by the way, what happened to spring?), I prefer to have my larger meal around lunch and then a lighter meal, usually a salad during the evening. That way, hopefully I can work off what I ate during the day and won’t feel uncomfortably stuffed at night.

Salads, for me, are the perfect evening meal. And lettuce is the quintessential base for what I call refrigerator salads … you know, start with any type of lettuce, then open up the ’fridge and see what you can use to make a salad. Sometimes there might be olives, cucumbers, some sort of cheese, leftover chicken, maybe a pepper or two, a tomato. Toss it all together and dress with oil and vinegar. Perfect, light and easy.

But what to do when you find yourself with too much leafy green goodness?

I am guilty of overbuying lettuce, especially when it’s on sale, and feel terrible if I can’t finish it off before it turns into something icky, and unrecognizable.

Luckily, lettuce leaves are a perfect substitute for bread, taco shells or flat breads that you would normally use to wrap a sandwich. Simply use a leaf of green, red, Boston or even (dare I say) iceberg and place whatever filling you have in the middle and wrap it up for a more nutritious snack.

For the more adventurous, there is lettuce soup.

Before you say ‘yuck,’ hear me out.

Think about it.

It’s over 90 degrees outside.

You’re hot. And hungry.

What would taste better than a crisp, clean and refreshing bowl of cold soup?

It may not fill you up, but lettuce soup can certainly help cool you down and take the edge off your hunger pangs.

And, there are so many variations … just like a refrigerator salad.

The most basic recipe is just two heads of lettuce, three cups of liquid (water or chicken stock or vegetable broth or a combination), a couple of teaspoons of butter (to add a bit of richness to the finish) and grated nutmeg to taste. You can either put everything in a blender without heating it (this method would be classified as “raw”) and puree until smooth or prepare according to the directions below.

Other recipes add potatoes, herbs, cream and such so it really is about personal taste. I’ve included the most basic (from epicurious.com) and one that adds herbs and cream (Emeril Lagasse’s version). Either soup can be served hot or cold.

In the garden, while I’ve supplemented the container garden with four more heads of red leaf, I’m still trying to figure out what to plant next. In the meantime I have taken advantage of my sister’s generosity in sharing her arugula and green leaf lettuces while waiting for mine to grow a bit more.

Lettuce Soup

about 5 cups

2 medium heads of Boston lettuce (about 3/4 pound total)

3 cups chicken broth

1 cup water

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

salt, pepper and freshly grated nutmeg to taste

Stack lettuce leaves and cut into thin shreds. In a 3-quart saucepan, gently simmer lettuce, broth and water, covered for 40 minutes.

In a blender, puree soup in two batches with butter, nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste. Serve either hot or cold.

Emeril’s Lettuce Soup

about 5 cups

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup sliced onion

1 teaspoon chopped garlic

1 tablespoon chopped parsley leaves, plus more for garnish

1 tablespoon chopped chives, plus more for garnish

2 teaspoons chopped tarragon leaves, plus more for garnish

2 heads Boston lettuce, leaves torn

3 cups chicken stock

1/2 cup heavy cream or evaporated milk

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

Heat olive oil over medium-low heat in a large saucepan. When hot, add onions and garlic and cook until onion is translucent, about 4 minutes.

Add parsley, chives, tarragon and lettuce and stir until the lettuce is wilted, about 3 minutes.

Add chicken stock and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes.

Process the soup in batches. Stir in cream and salt and pepper and simmer for 5 minutes or until heated through. Adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve hot or cold, garnished with fresh herbs.

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