Lettuce

lettuce.jpgLettuce: We grow green and red Loose Leaf, green and red Oak Leaf, green and red Romaine and Boston Bib (Butter Head).

Lettuce is a fairly hardy, cool-weather vegetable that thrives when the average daily temperature is between 60 and 70°F. It should be planted in early spring or late summer. At high temperatures, growth is stunted, the leaves may be bitter and the seedstalk forms and elongates rapidly. Some types and varieties of lettuce withstand heat better than others.

There are five distinct types of lettuce: leaf (also called loose-leaf lettuce), Cos or romaine, crisphead, butterhead and stem (also called asparagus lettuce).

Leaf lettuce, the most widely adapted type, produces crisp leaves loosely arranged on the stalk. Nearly every garden has at least a short row of leaf lettuce, making it the most widely planted salad vegetable. Cos or romaine forms an upright, elongated head and is an excellent addition to salads and sandwiches. The butterhead varieties are generally small, loose-heading types that have tender, soft leaves with a delicate sweet flavor. Stem lettuce forms an enlarged seedstalk that is used mainly in stewed, creamed and Chinese dishes.

Crisphead varieties, the iceberg types common at supermarkets all over the country, are adapted to northern conditions and require the most care. In areas without long, cool seasons, they generally are grown from transplants, started early and moved to the garden as soon as the soil can be worked. They are extremely sensitive to heat and must mature before the first hot spell of summer to achieve high-quality heads. If an unseasonably early heat wave hits before they have matured, they almost certainly fail. In many locations, crisphead lettuce plants started in late summer to mature in the cooler weather of fall have a much better chance of success.

Nutritional value and health benefits: The nutritional value of lettuce varies with the variety. Lettuce in general provides small amounts of dietary fiber, some carbohydrates, a little protein and a trace of fat. Its most important nutrients are vitamin A and potassium. The vitamin A comes from beta carotene, whose yellow-orange is hidden by green chlorophyll pigments. Beta carotene, of course, is converted to vitamin A in the human body. The darker green, the more beta carotene.

According to the American Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society, foods rich in vitamin A and C (antioxidants) offer protection against some forms of cancer. Along with other phytochemical, antioxidants reduce the risk of cancer of the respiratory system and intestinal tract.

Lettuce, except iceberg, is also a moderately good source of vitamin C, calcium, iron and copper. The spine and ribs provide dietary fiber, while vitamins and minerals are concentrated in the delicate leaf portion.

Nutrition Facts (One cup raw leaf lettuce, chopped)

    Calories 9
    Dietary Fiber 1.3
    Protein 1 gram
    Carbohydrates 1.34 grams
    Vitamin A 1456 IU
    Vitamin C 13.44
    Calcium 20.16
    Iron 0.62
    Potassium 162.4 mg

Preparation and serving: Rinse lettuce just before serving in very cold water. Pat dry with a clean towel. Limp leaves can be revived by immersing in ice water for a few minutes. Tear lettuce leaves into pieces. If practical, do not cut or sliced lettuce leaves in advance. Damaged cut lettuce leaves release an ascorbic acid oxidase, which destroys vitamin C. Cut edges also discolor quickly.

Dry leaves before serving. Salad dressing will cling to dry lettuce leaves instead of sinking to the bottom of the salad bowl. Toss with your favorite dressing just before serving (or serve dressing on the side) Lettuce leaves covered with dressing will quickly wilt.

Home preservation: Due to the extremely high water content, 94.9%, there are no successful method of long-term home preservation for lettuce. Lettuce does not respond well to freezing, canning or drying. For optimal nutritional value, lettuce should be eaten while it is fresh and crisp.

Recipes: The mild flavor of fresh lettuce leaves are well complimented by fresh or dry herbs. The base of most green salads is lettuce. Two or three lettuce varieties are good for both taste and texture. Mix leaf lettuce (Black-seed Simpson or Oak Leaf) with crisp lettuce (romaine or other crisphead) and accent with fresh herb leaves. The simplest way to appreciate a tossed green salad is with a vinaigrette dressing. Keep it simple. When the dressing becomes too complicated, the mild garden greens can be overpowered.

Mixed Green Salad with Red and Yellow Pepper Vinaigrette

  • 4 cups mixed fresh greens (combine a leaf lettuce with crisp varieties) romaine, Boston, with red leaf or Oak Leaf or your favorite lettuce
  • 4 tablespoons Red & Yellow pepper vinaigrette
  • 2 tablespoons crumbled blue cheese or goat cheese (optional)

Wash and dry lettuce leaves. Tear into bite size pieces. Place in an oversized bowl with room for tossing. Place in refrigerator until ready to toss and serve. Can be prepared up to 2 hours in advance. Makes one cup of vinaigrette.

Pour 4 tablespoons of vinaigrette over the greens and toss well with two large forks to coat. Add crumbled cheese, if desired and toss to combine. Serve immediately. Yields 4 one-cup servings.

Red and Yellow Pepper Vinaigrette

  • 1 small yellow bell pepper, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1 small red bell pepper, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
  • 4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons warm water
  • pinch of sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a medium bowl, whisk together all ingredients until combined well. This vinaigrette will keep, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for 3 days. Recipe may be doubled. Makes one cup.

Try these simple vinaigrette recipes with your favorite salad greens.

Citrus Vinaigrette

  • 1/4 cup fresh orange juice (juice of one small orange)
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse Kosher salt (1/4 teaspoon table salt)
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Combine the juices and salt and pepper. Slowly whisk in oils until incorporated. A blender or food processor may also be used. Pour into a glass jar and seal. Serve over your favorite salad greens. The vinaigrette will keep, tightly covered, for a week in the refrigerator. To warm cold vinaigrette, place jar in a bowl of hot tap water for a few minutes.

Mustard Chive Vinaigrette

  • 1 tablespoon grainy Dijon-style mustard
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh chives
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • Add freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Using a whisk or fork, in a small bowl combine all ingredients except the oil. Slowly add the oil, whisking vigorously, until the vinaigrette is emulsified. Pour over your favorite salad greens and toss. Store remaining vinaigrette in the refrigerator, in a tightly sealed glass jar, for up to one week. To warm cold vinaigrette, place jar in a small bowl of hot tap water for a few minutes. Makes 1/2 cup.