We love our lettuce. Crunchy Iceberg, tender Boston, Bibb, flashy red leaf lettuce-perfect for lettuce wraps-and good old stout Romaine, we all have our favourites and they all occupy a special place in our hearts and in our crispers, our salads, soups, wraps and sandwiches. Can you imagine a BLT without the lettuce? Well, in addition to requiring a name change for that sandwich it would be just wrong. A few leaves of crisp, fresh, hydrating lettuce is de rigeur in most sandwiches and burgers, offering a satisfying and refreshing crunch to counter the soft bread or bun, as well as adding the benefits of at least a little green vegetable goodness as you wolf down another hamburger.
But lettuce is more than just a pretty face. While iceberg lettuce may not be much more than a crunchy delivery system for your favourite salad dressing, the nutritive benefits of romaine are pretty impressive, making it a healthy dietary choice.
Two cups of Romaine lettuce, known outside of North America as “Cos lettuce” has over 100% of your RDA of vitamin K, and it is also a very good source of vitamins A and C, B1, B2 and B6. Romaine is high in antioxidants and is also a good source of several minerals too, like magnesium, potassium, iron and calcium.
Romaine lettuce –indeed, all the lettuces –are often touted as weight-loss foods because of their low caloric content, about 24 calories in a 2 cup serving; twenty percent of these calories are protein, and because of the fibre content, romaine helps to give you a full feeling, especially if you eat a lot of it, which you probably should, because it’s good for you! Furthermore Romaine lettuce is high in dietary fibre as well, making that Caesar Salad actually good for you, (if you scale back on the dressing, cheese and bacon…)
The three branches of the lettuce family, Cos, Leaf and Head lettuce all have one thing in common, a milky, slightly bitter fluid that can be seen it it’s ribs when cut or torn. This liquid-referred to as latex- is what gives lettuce its scientific name, lactuca sativa –lacsignifying milk, referring to the bitter latex, and sativa meaning cultivated. And how the humble lettuce has been cultivated! For eons, with records indicating its cultivation in ancient Egypt in the third millennium B.C. Over the years, the Latin word lactuca evolved into the English lettuce.
This summer, why not get to know your romaine a little better? Introduce it to a hot, smoky barbecue for a super simple and delicious side of grilled romaine hearts, so good you’ll find yourself eating at least two . Or blitz it up with a little chicken stock or good vegetable broth and add a dash of cream or soy or almond milk for a refreshing, healthy and delicious chilled romaine lettuce soup. Cooking intensifies the flavours of the lettuce, both for the grilled hearts and in the soup, so prepare yourself for a flavor burst! This summer, lettuce entertain you!
Grilled Romaine Hearts
Super easy, and ready in about four minutes. Remove the floppy outer leaves and trim an inch or two from the head of the lettuce. Trim the discoloured part from the root end and cut the heart lengthwise down the middle, from head to root. Rinse well and shake or pat dry. Brush lettuce with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill cut-side down for about two minutes, or until lettuce begins to wilt and char a bit. Turn over and grill another two minutes. Remove from grill and set aside. From here you can drizzle with a little lemon juice, or get fancy and top with crumbled blue cheese and bacon bits, or parmesan and anchovy, or just mow down with a knife and fork.
Chilled Romaine Lettuce Soup
2 tablespoons butter
2 medium heads of romaine lettuce, chopped
1 medium onion, sliced
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 cups ice cubes
½ cup cream or 1 cup almond or soy milk
Melt butter. Sautee onion until soft. Add lettuce and cook until wilted, about 5 minutes. Add stock and simmer another five minutes. Transfer to blender, add ice and blitz until smooth, Refrigerate until chilled. Stir in cream or milk. Serve.