Lettuce – a myriad of forms!
Last month we looked at the humble Lettuce. For many of us Lettuce means the round, light green vegetable with crunchy leaves that is the basis of most green salads. At least that is what we had as I grew up. So when I went to UK in early eighties I was surprised to use so many different varieties in our restaurant, virtually no Iceberg. We had cos, minuette, radicchio and a couple of others. Now the modern Australian restaurant would as likely serve and Icebrg salad as they would processed white bread.
In our Renaissance range we have a variety of colours and leaf shapes including; red and green cos, red and green oakleaf, radicchio, red coral, salad bowl and few others. The bedding plant suppliers have a similar range and even the local supermarket now has a few types.
Some of the more common forms:
Iceberg is the most popular lettuce in Australia (and USA). The name Iceberg comes from the appearance of the heads after being shipped in containers packed with ice. It is the lowest in nutritional value and calories but is popular due to its ‘crunch’ and is great for sandwiches and burgers. Most retailers will have this popular vegetable available. Look for tight heads with a solid heavy feeling. Can be used as whole leaves or shredded.
Cos, or Romaine is one of the older varieties and is a subspecies of the common lettuce: Lactuca sativa ssp longifolia. It has darker leaves and is very high in quite a few micronutrients whils still being very low in calories. It has long leaves with a crunchy prominent mid rib. Of all the lettuce types Cos has the highest levels of vitamin C, fiber, potassium, and folate. It has a slightly more bitter taste due to the milky sap and is more tolerant of heat than many other forms. It is the best form for the traditional Caesar salads, makes good soups and can even be lightly grilled. The name Cos is supposedly from the Greek island of the same name and the term Romaine is due to its early title in French and Italian as Roman Lettuce.
Coral and Oakleaf
These are two types of ‘loose leaf lettuces’ that make excellent salads. They grow in large, open heads with masses of deeply colored leaves. They have more flavor than head lettuces and add shape, colour and texture to the standard green salad. They are good sources of folates and the red forms are high in vitamin A and other antioxidants.
Coral lettuces have pretty ruffled leaves and oakleaf forms have large oak like leaves. They both come in several colour forms – green, bronze and red.
This unusual plant that is popular in Italian cuisine has a long history and looks like a cross between an Iceberg lettuce and a red cabbage. Although it is referred to as a lettuce it is actually a chicory (Chicorium intybus). The most popular forms have brilliant burgundy-tipped leaves with bright white ribs. They have tight cabbage like heads. They lack chlorophyll like the true lettuces, but are still a good source of vitamin C and iron.
This is not a type of lettuce but a term that refers to any mix of loose, baby lettuce leaves. It has been popular in Europe and many up market restaurants. It is now regularly available pre packed in most vegetable retailers.
Everyone has their own favorite green salad recipe usually consisting of a mix of lettuce leaves, tomatoes, cucumbers and capsicum. There are as many styles of salad dressing as there are green leafy vegetables. Personally I like the taste of the vegetables and find the dressings bury the natural flavours. Any green salad will benefit from the addition of fresh herbs like basil, mint, coriander etc.
There are also a range of recipes for cooked lettuce. Stir fried lettuce with tofu or scallops and ginger is great dish. Simply heat up some sesame oil and add grated ginger. Cook for 60 secs then add the scallops or tofu and cook for a minute or two. Add fresh chopped lettuce (preferably cos) and toss over high heat for a minute than serves. There is also a classic French recipe using fresh garden peas, vegetable stock and iceberg lettuce. Place all ingredients in large pan and simmer until cooked is the base method. Add other fresh herbs or a fish stock to vary the flavor.
So, take the humble lettuce and try some of the more unusual varieties. They will help your health and give a fresh zest to most meals.