Like many other CSA members, I have a love/hate relationship with lettuce. Oh it starts off innocent enough — the first tender bunches of arugula in early June herald a summer of fresh green things to come, blissful after a winter of squash and canned tomatoes and covert glances at California produce. Arugula and salad mix give way to the glory of the lettuce family, full heads of bib, romaine, oak leaf. Fractal symmetry amazes, salad possibilities tantalize.
But the magic fades quickly. Lettuce, again? Where are the tomatoes? The bushy purple-green heads languish at the back of the refrigerator, emerging a week later with frostbitten edges, only to be composted in order to make room for this week’s share…of more lettuce.
My CSA farmer is a wonderful farmer, and this is our second year as members. So while last summer his particular lettuce-growing habit caught me off guard, this year I was prepared for lettuce not only in June, not only in July, but full on into August and as far into the fall as high tunnels and row cover can allow (which is pretty far, if I remember correctly). To approach lettuce with love all season long, I was going to need some help. Here are the tools that have helped me and my lettuce to maintain a healthy relationship, all season long:
1) Make salad dressing with an immersion blender. No more shaking salad dressing in a little jar, only to have it separate moments later. My forays into salad dressing using an immersion blender have been extremely satisfying. And trust the vegans to know a thing or two about salad: recipes such as “Orange Shallot Vinaigrette” and “Mo Kelly’s Salad Dressing” in “How it All Vegan” are really delicious. My adapted version of their “Caesar’s Wife’s Dressing” is below.
2) Add crunch. Sally Fallon, spokesperson for the Weston A. Price foundation and advocate of fermenting nuts and grains, recommends soaking walnuts and pumpkin seeds (and pretty much everything else) in a salt water solution over night, then baking in a low oven for 8-12 hours until the nuts are completely dry. What emerges is a cheesy, nutrient dense, flavorful crunch morsel – that makes salad so much more fun.
3) Add fruit. Strawberries in balsamic sauce? Pour it over lettuce. Extra peaches? Slice them on. You’ve heard that humans have a hard time stopping when they’re eating something sweet – so why use that in your salad’s favor. I’m not suggesting salad dressings full of sugar or honey. But once I added a handful of strawberries to a salad that had sat uneaten for 2 days in the fridge – the whole thing was devoured in minutes.
4) Roll it up. I have two extremely fond memories of lettuce-as-plate from my childhood. One is portable Caesar Salads we used to make in Girl Guides (Girl Scouts in Canada): On a long firm leaf of romaine, squirt a bead of salad dressing down the spine. Put a breadstick on top, and cover with grated parmesan. Roll up the leaf and eat like a hotdog. The second is lettuce wraps popular at Chinese food restaurants. For this, bib or Boston lettuce is best, and it can be meat or veggie: sauté ground protein with soy sauce, ginger and garlic and bring it out to the table with a heaping plate of beautiful washed lettuce ‘bowls’. Your guests can spoon in the filling, along with some rice or crispy rice noodles, dip in hoisin sauce, roll up and try not to make a mess while eating (they’ll make a mess). But hey – they’ll also be eating lettuce.
Vegan Caesar Salad Dressing (adapted from “Caesar’s Wife’s Dressing” in Garden of Vegan by Tanya Barnard and Sarah Kramer)
2-3 tablespoons miso
1 ½ tablespoon lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ cup nutritional yeast
¾ cup olive oil
1 tablespoon Braggs or soy sauce
1 ½ teaspoon red wine vinegar
salt & pepper to taste
Mix everything with an immersion blender. Makes about 1.5 cups. Store in a jar in the fridge for 2 weeks.
Anna Hanau is the Associate Director of Food Programs at Hazon, and co-authored “Food for Thought, Hazon’s Sourcebook on Jews, Food and Contemporary Life.” She and her husband Naf Hanau founded a kosher pastured meat business called Grow and Behold Foods in summer 2010, and she keeps a flock of chickens in her backyard in Brooklyn.
In accordance with Hazon’s conflict of interest policy, Anna does not work on Hazon’s meat or meat-related projects*.