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Losing it for lettuce

It’s one of the most undersung ingredients in the kitchen and one that could unlock a wealth of new recipes for you. But before we do this, we need to forget about sad salads of shredded iceberg, sliced cucumber and a smattering of cherry tomatoes.

The aforementioned salad offering is a classic throwback from the 70s and its only serviceable use is between two slices of bread with some bacon – though the BLT packs enough potential to be riffed on. However, that’s not to say that the Iceberg should be shunned. You should know by now that no two hamburgers are the same and for a quintessential LA-style burger, a wedge of crisp Iceberg lettuce delivers all the freshness and crunch this omnipresent sandwich deserves. Introducing such contrast in textures can revitalise what can so often be a boring humdrum menu item, but also allow you to add vibrancy and volume to your stuffed bun.

In fact, the city of Los Angeles knows a thing or two about integrating lettuce into a wide range of dishes. Venice’s Gjelina have a unique ability to create exciting, invigorating salads using varieties like Romaine, where it’s used alongside intense dressings, toasted pine nuts, croutons and charred meats.

Speaking of charred meats, Korean barbecue is another dynamic cuisine that uses lettuce as a workhorse. Bo ssam, a dish that’s now a modern icon thanks to David Chang’s Momofuku, utilises Bibb lettuce leaves as a wrap for slow cooked pork, slathered with Korean sauces, oysters, rice and kimchi.

Lettuce wraps are not just the remit of trendy Korean barbecue joints though, rice noodles and a slew of south east Asian salads can be transported via the versatile leaves. With the rise of wellness trends and clean eating, the appeal of using large Bibb lettuce leaves in place of a wrap offers you a GF and often low GI alternative too.

And in keeping with trends, particularly over the course of warmer weather, the lettuce, alongside many other vegetables are getting some serious barbecue action. Slicing Little Gem lettuces in half and grilling over charcoal is being done more and more in live fire cooking arenas, largely to create more interesting side, but there is work afoot for vegetarian and vegan barbecue dishes too. Thick teriyaki marinades work brilliantly with charred Little Gem as well as rough cut vegetables like red onion, peppers, courgette and summer squash.

Of course, lettuce still has a humble role to play in the side salad, but you don’t have to present a token bit of greenery that no one eats, you can pep that handful of lettuce and greens into an exciting array of colour and sprightliness leaving diners with the memory of a restaurant that takes the ordinary and turns it up to eleven.

Whether you’re taking a dressing and an abundance of toasted nuts and seeds to your lettuce, using it as a vehicle for deeply flavoured, slow-cooked meats, or as a wellness flag to the masses, consider exploring lettuce varieties a little further, and give them the attention they deserve.