Lettuce Deserves To Be Cooked

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Lettuce Deserves To Be Cooked

For many parts of the Northern Hemisphere, April is a transitional time between winter and spring. You may be ready for the sun to make an appearance every day, but those cold and blustery days are still keeping you guessing which jacket to wear when you leave the house. It’s at this time that the line between cold-weather and warm-weather foods are blurred. Should you make a soup or a salad for lunch? It’s not really clear. That’s why this season is the ideal time to cook your lettuce.

The light, neutral, preferably crunchy green may appear in your spring sandwiches and summertime salads, where you likely eat it raw. But lettuce deserves to be recognized as more than a watery base for fresh vegetables. Although lettuce may not have a remarkable flavor when it’s raw, it takes on interesting and complex qualities once it’s been cooked. And since there are different types of lettuce out there for you to work with, it can be fun to experiment with preparation and cooking methods.

In some parts of the world, like China, cooking lettuce is a common practice, so there are several tried-and-true methods for heating up that head of lettuce in a way that imbues it with richness and a subtle sweetness that’s hard not to love. Let’s look at some of the best lettuce-cooking approaches for you to experiment with.

Grilled Lettuce

Once you start grilling your lettuce, you may never decide to eat it raw again. You’re not going to want to leave your lettuce on the grill for a long period of time—you want it to retain its crunch while taking on a nice, flavorful char. Your best bet is to use romaine if you decide to grill your lettuce, as it’s a bit sturdier than other types of lettuce and can hold up well to the heat.

For a simple side dish, cut a heart of romaine in half, drizzle some olive oil on both sides and sprinkle them with salt and pepper (and any other seasonings of your choice). Then, place them flat-side down on the grill, and cook for two to three minutes. Turn them over, and continue cooking until both sides have char marks on them. Take off the heat and serve your romaine hearts with lemon and shredded Parmesan cheese. You’ll never look at a salad the same way again.

Sautéed Lettuce

You can treat lettuce like any other green you cook with. Instead of enjoying it raw, try sautéing it when you’re looking for a quick, warm side dish to have with dinner. You can season your lettuce the way you would cooked spinach, cabbage or kale; opting for an oyster sauce, soy sauce and sesame oil mixture is a solid idea, as is a simple olive oil, lemon and black pepper combo. Adding onions or garlic to the mix also enhances the flavor. Cook the lettuce in a pan with oil until it’s nicely wilted, and then serve with rice, as a side dish or on its own as a snack.

Poached Lettuce

Poached lettuce is a delicious dish that you’ll find in some Chinese cuisines, and it’s something you can easily make at home, especially when you’re looking for a way to use up that wilting head of lettuce sitting in your fridge. Poaching doesn’t take long with lettuce—just cook intact hearts until they reach your preferred doneness level, then season them with oyster sauce, garlic or whatever else suits your taste buds.

Whether you’re looking for recipes that will help you transition between seasons or you’re just trying to switch up your weekly veggie routine, cooked lettuce should be on your radar.

Samantha Maxwell is a food writer and editor based in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @samseating.

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