Sunday, October 18, 2015

Lettuce 101

Lettuce growing at Circle Brook Farm
Lettuce is part of the daisy family (Asteraceae) which has over 23,000 species. They include chicory, Globe and Jerusalem artichokes, sunflower and safflower. It is an annual plant that is mostly grown as a leaf vegetable but sometimes for it’s seed and stem. Lettuce needs low growing temperatures to prevent it from flowering to quickly and lives 65 to 130 days from seed to harvest. Lettuce leaves are colorful and are mostly green but can range from red, yellow, gold to blue teal. The plants are available in a wide variety of sizes, shapes and textures. The leaves can be scalloped, notched, frilly or fluffy. There are seven main cultivars which include Leaf, Romaine, Iceberg/Crisphead, Butterhead, Summercrisp, Stem and Oilseed. To learn more about different varieties go here and here.

The Egyptians first cultivated lettuce’s succulent leaves but the plant was originally a weed whose seeds produced oil. Lettuce then spread to the Greeks and Romans and was known as lactuca which became lettuce in English. Salad was often served after a meal to aid in sleep. The Romans cooked and served lettuce with an oil and vinegar dressing. From here it spread throughout Europe and by about 50 AD multiple types of lettuces were mentioned in medieval literature. Lettuce was brought to the Americas by Christopher Columbus in the 15th century. Several varieties were developed in Europe and up until the 20th century Europe and North America controlled the market. The top global producers in 2013 were China, the United States, India, Spain and Italy. To learn more about lettuce go here.

Did you know that the ancient Egyptians considered lettuce to be a symbol of sexual prowess and they believed that it promoted love and childbearing in women? The Romans believed this as well, but the Greeks connected lettuce to impotency and served it during funerals. Also did you know the expression “rabbit food” was coined in the 1930’s and that the darker green leaves are more nutritious than the lighter green? For more fun and interesting facts go here and here.

To Store

Below are the guidelines for storing different varietals according to Fresh Direct. 

Red and Green Leaf Lettuce
Store these lettuces unwashed in a loosely closed plastic bag in the refrigerator. They will keep for 2 to 3 days. 

Store Romaine lettuce unwashed in a loosely closed plastic bag in the refrigerator, or wash the leaves, dry them thoroughly, and refrigerate in a tightly sealed plastic bag. Either way, Romaine should last for up to a week. 

Boston Lettuce
Store this butterhead lettuce unwashed in a loosely closed plastic bag in the refrigerator. It should keep for 2 to 3 days. If you wash the leaves, dry them thoroughly, and refrigerate in a tightly sealed plastic bag, Boston lettuce will last for about a week. 

Iceberg Lettuce
Store iceberg lettuce unwashed in a perforated or loosely closed plastic bag in the refrigerator crisper. It will keep for about a week. 

Arugula and Mesclun
These salad greens are very perishable, so wrap them in damp paper towels and store unwashed in a perforated plastic bag in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator. They should keep for 2 to 3 days. 

Salad Mixes
Unopened salad mixes will stay fresh in the refrigerator until the "Best By" date stamped on the front of the bag. Once opened, the salad should keep for several days, stored in a sealed plastic bag. 

This green retains its crispness for up to 4 days if kept in the coolest part of the fridge. Store unwashed in a perforated plastic bag. 

The delicacy that serves mâche well in your salad is its enemy in the refrigerator. Don't plan on storing it more than 1 or 2 days. 

Belgian Endive, Frisée, and Radicchio
To store these lettuces, place in dampened paper towels or perforated plastic bags and store in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator. They should keep for up to 5 days; after that they will lose their crispness. 

To keep cress fresh, immerse stems in water or wrap them in a damp paper towel and refrigerate for no more than 2 or 3 days. 

Lollo Rosso
Lollo rosso is very perishable, so wrap it in damp paper towels and store unwashed in a perforated plastic bag in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator, where it should keep for 2 to 3 days. 

For additional suggestions go to this great article by The Kitchn.

To Nourish

The nutrition profile of lettuces will vary by type. For instance, Iceberg is the least nutritious as the heads are tight and the inner leaves see very little sun. But there are several general statements that can be made about lettuce. According to lettuce leaves are one of the lowest calorie greens with 100 grams/3 1/2 ounces equalling just 15 calories. Lettuce is also a great source of fiber.  Lettuce stores many phyonutrients which promote health and fight disease. Lettuce is a good source of Vitamin A and Beta Carotene as well as Vitamin K, C, B complex Vitamins and Folate. They also contain a fair amount of minerals like Iron, Calcium, Magnesium and Potassium. Lettuce can promote weight loss, heart health and a good nights sleep! To learn more go here.

To Prepare

Most lettuces are eaten raw in salads, sandwiches and wraps. But you can be even more creative by adding your lettuces to juices and smoothies. Lettuce can also be grilled, stir fried, made into soup and even a lettuce sauce. Here is a great visual guide and flavor profile for various salad greens you may encounter in your CSA share from Epicurious Also check out startcooking.coms list of salad greens from A-Z. This information can help you decide how to use your greens best in a recipe or salad. There are many different methods for washing and prepping your lettuce depending on the variety. Check out this page for instructions on how to prep loose leaf lettuces and iceberg lettuce. And this instructional video will show you how to prep your Romaine lettuce. This website highlights how to prepare a salad that will last you all week and here are The Guardians 10 best lettuce recipes! 

To Try

Romaine, Apple and Orange Juice
Berry Lettuce Smoothie

Bibb Lettuce Sauce
Bacon and Romaine Skewers with Blue Cheese
Lettuce with Peruvian Dipping Sauce
Red Lettuce with Balsamic Onions
Canlis Salad
Pear Crunch Salad
Cracking Cobb Salad
Chicken and Squash Salad
Celery, Grilled Grape, Lettuce and Mushroom Salad
Mixed Greens and Herb Salad with Figs and Walnuts
Holiday Lettuce Salad
Lemony Waldorf Salad
Chopped Italian Salad
Blue Kale and Lettuce Salad
Warm Butter Lettuce with Hazelnuts
Butter Lettuce with Gorgonzola and Pear Dressing
The Greenest Salad
Ginger Jeweled Salad
Arugula and Red Leaf Lettuce Salad
Fresh Pea and Romaine Salad
Romaine and Radish Salad with Buttermilk Lemon Dressing
Classic Caesar Salad
Chilled Lettuce Soup
Lettuce Soup
Emeril Lagasse's Lettuce Soup
Chinese Stir Fried Lettuce
Stir Fried Garlic Lettuce
Stirred Fried Lettuce with Seared Tofu and Red Pepper
Quick Braised Peas, Lettuce and Scallions
Grilled Caesar Salad
Grilled Butter Lettuce with Creamy Dressing
Grilled Lettuces
Grilled Romaine Lettuce
Curried Chicken Salad in Lettuce Cups
Bacon, Lettuce and Plum Sandwiches
Lettuce Wrapped Asian Turkey Salad
Korean Grilled Lettuce Wraps
Thai Style Spicy Chicken in Lettuce Cups
Thai Minced Chicken Lettuce Cups
Grilled Chicken Lettuce Wraps with Sesame Miso Sauce
Buffalo Chicken Lettuce Wraps
Mushrooms in Lettuce Wraps
Momofuku's Bo Ssam wrapped in Lettuce Leaves
Spicy Ginger Pork in Lettuce Leaves
Pasta with Prosciutto and Lettuce
Green Mole with Chicken
Lettuce Wrapped Fish
Albacore Roasted in a Bed of Lettuce
Stuffed Romaine Leaves with Avgolemono Sauce
Shredded Beef Salad

To Use
Salad lovers, the OXO Lettuce Knife is your essential knife. The serrated edge cuts cleanly through all types of greens from leafy romaine to crisp iceberg, and the plastic blade prevents bruising or browning. This knife is also great for cutting desserts like sheet cakes and bar cookies as it won't scratch nonstick pans. (Williams-Sonoma, $4.95)