Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Bitter Lettuce Solution

Isn't it sad when you snip a few lettuce greens fresh from your garden, gently rinse them, mound them up on a large salad plate, drizzle with dressing, and crunch into a mouthful of bitterness?  It's more than sad, it's tragic!  All those hours of nurturing seeds and caring for the garden, all those mouthwatering daydreams of endless garden greens, all turned to bitter tears of bitter lettuce failure. I speak from recent experience. 

I remember as a kid watching my dad grow garden lettuce, and it was always bitter. I vowed then never to grow lettuce when I got older.  Well guess what?  I broke that vow. I love salad and I want to grow my own. I tried to grow lettuce this year in the cool of spring.  I grew 4 varieties- Paris Romaine Cos, Black Seeded Simpson, Buttercrunch, and Iceberg.  The results were that the lettuce looked good, but every variety was bitter in varying degrees.  

Dejected, I searched the internet for what to do with bitter lettuce. Some sites gave silly advice like, "soak leaves in cold water and stick in the fridge for 2-3 days."  That did nothing, and bitterness still abounded.  

Other sites said to compost it because nothing can be done.  Now, I had a bunch of lettuce that looked beautiful and I just couldn't bring myself to toss it in with all the rotting peelings. 

Then I remembered my friend from college that grew up in Cambodia. He once suggested tossing lettuce into our chili. My friends and I raised our eyebrows and laughed. Ew! Who had ever heard of cooked lettuce?  But he was serious and said it was really good. None of us believed him. Just the thought of limp lettuce sounded nasty, so we ended the conversation.  But recalling it now, I think we should've given my Cambodian friend a chance. A few years ago, I had read about medieval cooking. Lettuce was never grown to eat raw back then. It was known as a pottage, something you put in a pot and cook, just as we often do now to spinach or chard or collard greens.  Huh, suddenly the idea of cooking lettuce was an appealing experiment, something worth trying, especially if I could save my hard-earned lettuce harvest.

So, I got to work. I pulled every lettuce plant in the garden, along with a few beet greens, spinach leaves, and some chard, washed it up, discarded any iffy-looking leaves, and prepared them to be cooked. 

I had half an onion in my fridge that I sliced and sautéed in olive oil first, then I added all my chopped greens and let them wilt. Then I added more until the greens were all wilted. I added a little tomato and a sprinkle of salt, pepper, and garlic powder and took a bite. Mmmmmmmmm!  It tasted wonderful!  

So, my friends, all is not lost if your lettuce turns bitter. Treat it like greens you'd normally cook up and enjoy it like cooked spinach. Substitute it in recipes for cooked spinach or chard- soups, lasagne, pastas, stir fry, casseroles, beans-n-greens, sautéed with spices, or maybe even chili (that still seems strange to me, but who knows?). 

P.S. I've also read rumors that there are varieties of lettuce that don't turn bitter. If you know anything about such varieties, please leave me a comment. I'd still love to grow my own crisp salad greens some day.  

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