What to Do with Too Much Lettuce in the Garden

by Jenn @ Frugal Upstate on July 29, 2009

Photo by BC Ballard

Photo by BC Ballard

No matter how careful I think I’m being when I plant, it happens every year.  Too much garden fresh loose leaf lettuce. A glut. An overflow.

Unlike that greenish white bowling ball of iceberg you buy at the store, fresh garden lettuce has an extremely limited lifespan in the fridge. Lettuce also doesn’t tend to last well in the garden.

Correction-it would last a very long time in the garden if the temperature stayed nice and cool-but invariably the weather warms and your lettuce will bolt, fulfilling its biological imperative to make more little lettuce plants by sending up a stalk and turning bitter.  I will say personally I’ve had good luck with “SloBolt” which is-well-slow to bolt.  You may not be able to find it in your mega center, but a quick internet search should pull up a vendor quickly.

The first thing to do if you want to lengthen the life of you lettuce harvest is to treat it right when you pick it.  Separate the leaves then soak in lukewarm water to get all the dirt off.  Lift the leaves out of the water (don’t pour the water off or all the grit will just settle back on the produce).

Next you need to remove the water.  I recommend using a salad spinner but if  you don’t have one you can wrap the lettuce in a towel (or place them in a string bag like one of those white mesh lingerie bags for your dryer) and head outside.  Whirl the towel/bag around your head and let the natural centrifugal force fling the moisture away.

For storage wrap the leaves in paper or regular towels (to absorb moisture) and place in a plastic bag in the fridge.  There are plenty of fantastic salad recipes out there to shake things up a bit from your basic “garden salad”. Lettuce can fill up wraps or sandwiches, or if you really want t0 be innovative you could try  Thai Lettuce Folds.

Photo by Flippin Yank

Photo by Flippin Yank

But what if you are sick of salads, sandwiches & wraps? Never fear.  I went to my favorite garden vegetable resource-The Victory Garden Cookbook.  I love this book-it has an entire chapter on each type of vegetable!

According to the book, you can COOK lettuce.

Yes, I know. Heresey.

But what do you have to lose? It’s just going to wind up in the compost pile at this rate right? So give it a try. If you don’t like it then just ditch it and you are no worse off than when you started.

So how exactly does this magical cooking process work? Well to start off with she says the stiffer, more bitter lettuces seem to work better, but you can really use any type of lettuce.  There are several basic cooking methods: Saute, Blanch, Steam & Braise.

Photo by Toni Girl

Photo by Toni Girl

Sauteed: Saute in olive oil or butter until leaves are wilted & tender. Turn the heat up to high briefly to cook off the additional moisture and “dry out” the greens at the very end of the process. Need a recipe to follow? Try this one for Wilted Lettuce.  If you go without a recipe, you can finish the sauteed lettuce simply with heavy cream cooked down till it coats the leaves* and add salt & pepper.  or saute onions & garlic before adding the lettuce.

Blanched: Clean the head of lettuce very well by soaking in a sink full of water for a few minutes then gently swishing up and down.  Then either drop the entire head into a pot of boiling salted water for just a few minutes, or blanch individual leaves for 1 minute.  Plunge blanched lettuce in an ice water bath to stop cooking.  Blanching removes strong bitterness.  You can finish by tossing the leaves with herbs, spices, lemon or seasonings. Blanched leaves can be used to wrap meats before cooking.  This looks fancy and helps the meat inside retain it’s moisture without adding additional fat.  Additionally you can use blanched lettuce leaves in the same way you would use blanched grape leaves to make Dolmades

Photo by Kochtopf

Photo by Kochtopf

Braising: Start by blanching the entire head of very well cleaned lettuce for about 2 minutes, then plunge in cool water.  Drain and gently squeeze out water.  Place in a greased baking dish, sprinkle w/salt & pepper, and cover with 2 c broth & 1 C water.  Bring pan to simmer on stove top then cover & place in oven to braise at 350 for about 1 hr.   When done you can reduce the liquid down, add a pat of butter & use it for sauce.  For a different version you can follow this recipe for Braised Hearts of Lettuce with Peas.

Steamed: Steam entire heads of lettuce then finish in the same way as the blanched leaves.

So you can see, there are many ways to use up that excess of lettuce.  You can even make soup~but you’ll have to wait till tomorrow to find out about that. . . I’ll be experimenting this afternoon and post about it tomorrow if it turns out well.

So what other ways do you know of to use up lettuce? Have you tried any of these cooking methods?

*Yes, cream. The lady who wrote “The Victory Garden Cookbook” was schooled in french cooking, so there is plenty of cream & butter to go around.
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