Lettuce is an incredibly versatile plant and a huge part of the modern diet. Hearty, easy-to-grow, and full of vitamin A and potassium, it’s been bred into numerous varieties and flavors, most often enjoyed raw in a refreshing salad or atop a sandwich. Many times lettuce is the only trace of green we get in otherwise heavy meals like hamburgers or tacos. But who says you can’t cook it?
To be sure, eating lettuce raw is the best way to take full advantage of its micronutrients and healthful properties. If you’re tired of salads, blending it into smoothies is a great way to get a green boost, and it’s pretty much undetectable flavor-wise. Wraps are another great way to mix up your lettuce intake and to cut down on carbs.
We don’t think of lettuce as a “green” in the same way we think of collards, mustard greens, or kale, but you can cook it just the same with comparable results. Spinach is a great example: well-known in its stewy, cooked-down state, but also a favorite when raw for cold salads and sandwiches.
There are times when I’ve scored too much good lettuce and can’t eat enough raw to keep up, inevitably opening my produce drawer to find sad and wilting organic arugula or butter lettuce that I can’t bear to give up on. When your lettuce is past its prime (not quite to mushy or rotting state, but not fresh enough for a salad), it’s an ideal time to consider throwing it in a pan.
It can be cooked exactly as you would any other green, reducing and shrinking down significantly as it cooks. Stir-fried lettuce is a great Chinese dish. It’s also sometimes lightly sautéed for warm salads or cooked into soups and stews. My mom showed me the trick of keeping it a little wet after you wash it so that it steams a little when it hits the hot pan.
Most of us do not get enough greens in our diet, and incorporating them can be tough if you’re not fond of the flavor or fibrous texture. Smoothies have always been my favorite way to get more greens, but cooking it into your favorite meals is another good way to up your dosage. Lettuce is a good gateway green since it’s something many of us have on hand and are used to keeping around.
Next time you’re making a casserole or enchiladas or scrambled eggs or a veggie medley, try throwing in a handful or two of chopped lettuce. You’ll be surprised how well it works and in such a wide variety of dishes. Or, if you’re about to trash a bag of it after wilting, consider cooking it down instead. Reduce waste, stretch out your resources, and get a good green boost to boot. Why not?
Check back later this week for a couple of tasty cooked lettuce recipes: Egg, Bean, and Greens Breakfast Tacos and Simply Sautéed Lettuce with Caramelized Red Onion.