Lettuce is usually relegated to the salad bowl, but it doesn’t always have to be like that. I remember being home for spring break as an impressionable college student and watching a European cooking show on PBS with my mother where the chef chopped up his romaine and threw it into a soup. I was perplexed by this use of what we usually just refer to as “salad,” but began to notice a plethora of ways you can use these greens in nontraditional ways.
Try using frilly escarole in Italian Wedding Soup, a warming combination of broth, greens, and meatballs. Tightly packed heads of radicchio can be cut open, marinated in a balsamic dressing, and then roasted until completely wilted and caramelized. Crispy romaine can be cut in half, grilled, and served up with a simple anchovy dressing. It goes without saying that each of these dishes would be elevated with the addition of some simple Parmesan.
Anything you would put into a sandwich, tortilla, or bun can be wrapped up in large lettuce leaves instead. Really think outside the box with this one: Tuna fish, egg salad, grilled chicken, and falafel are all good choices. This month, we’re tasting these Thai-inspired Salad Roll-Ups in all public schools through our Harvest of the Month program. Try making them at home.
Recipe by Robin Forte
8 large lettuce leaves, washed and dried
2 oz. rice noodles, cooked
8 oz. shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced, cooked, and cooled
1-2 carrots, grated (approx ¾ cup)
¼ pound cooked chopped chicken, shrimp, or tofu
Mint leaves, chives, cilantro
Lay out your lettuce leaf. Top the leaf with a pinch of cooked noodles, a few pieces of cooked mushrooms, follow with a pinch of the grated carrot, a pinch of your protein of choice, a pinch of bean sprouts, and finish with the fresh herbs. You don’t want to overfill your lettuce leaf, or it will be difficult to roll. Roll up eggroll-style; cut the stem of the leaf if it impedes rolling. Continue with remaining lettuce leaves and fillings.
2 Tbsp. hot water
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. lime juice
1 Tbsp. tamarind paste, apricot jam, orange marmalade, or other sweet jam or jell
2 tsp. Asian fish sauce
1 tsp. cilantro, minced
1 tsp. garlic, minced
1 tsp. jalapeño or other hot pepper, minced (optional)
Mix all ingredients until combined.