Say the word lettuce and many Americans think of a crisp cold salad, the start of a large buffet or some sort of landing area for other vegetables. But say lettuce to someone knowledgeable in Chinese or French cuisines and thoughts of casseroles, stir-fry and soups come to mind.
Cooked lettuce is comfort food to many in Asia and Europe but has yet to make much of an impression in the United States. While we love the taste of braised collard greens, steamed cabbage, creamed spinach and rich pasta mixed with leafy arugula, there’s little appreciation for cooking lettuce.
When I buy lettuce, I opt for a whole fresh head as it’s cheaper than buying the bagged stuff. Having a variety of ways to enjoy lettuce – from a garden salad, to a wrap around a filling, to a steamed side dish – ensures that nothing will go to waste.
One of my favorite late night snacks is a small pot of peas with wilted lettuce. Every now and then, I find myself hungry, knowing it’s too late in the evening to cook a full-on meal, yet too early to go to bed. In those instances, I opt for some sort of vegetable snack and when I need something heartier, I cook the vegetable.
Cooking lettuce is so simple, I have a new variation with every attempt. Some days I squeeze fresh lemon juice on Boston lettuce, allowing the tender leaves to pick up fresh acidity. Other times I’ll add a sprinkle of freshly chopped mint, right at the end, to give the lettuce a hearty bite. I love the taste of Romaine lettuce, with its dark green leaves and thick stems, paired with bright baby peas and a pat of butter. Below I’ve included such a simple recipe I hope you enjoy it as a side dish or special snack. Warm and rich, it evokes the joys of soup without the heaviness of a stew.
Braised Lettuce and Peas
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small shallot (thinly sliced)
Half head of Romaine lettuce (chopped into large pieces)
1 cup chicken stock (vegetable stock is also good)
1 1/2 cups frozen peas
In a stockpot or deep saute pan, melt the butter. Add the shallot and saute for one minute. Add the lettuce and chicken stock and bring to a simmer. Add the peas and cover for two minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.
Garnish with any variety of heavy cream, freshly chopped mint, grated carrots or squeeze of lemon juice.