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Lettuce

There are over 100 varieties of lettuce. The word lettuce comes from Latin lactuca or lactus, which means milk, referring to the milky substance that escapes from the lettuce when it is cut from its stem in the garden.


Characteristics

The tender and crunchy leaves of lettuce are normally green, but can also be red.

Here are some of the best-known varieties of lettuce :

Leaf lettuce

Leaf lettuce originated in Europe and is now widely cultivated in Quebec. It is a loose-leaf lettuce with curly, rippled leaves that hold together at the base. There are many varieties with large and long, tender leaves that range in colour from green to red, sometimes both. All are very tasty, some even taste slightly of hazelnut.

Leaf lettuce is generally served as a side dish, often with small strips of pork (lardons) and garlic croutons.

Romaine lettuce

Romaine lettuce is also a loose-leaf lettuce. The leaves are long, crisp and dark green; they have a firm but fragile white vein running through the middle. The inner leaves are generally lighter and very tender. Romaine has a slightly nutty taste.

Romaine is used to make the classic Caesar salad. It is also often braised.

Butterhead lettuce

Butterhead, or Boston lettuce, is a very refined-tasting loose-leaf lettuce with tender, floppy, pale green leaves. It is used in sandwiches and salads with very light vinaigrettes.

Head lettuce

Head lettuce, or iceberg lettuce, is the all-time, best-known lettuce in North America. Its firm and compact outer leaves are very light green and crunchy; inner leaves are lighter but also crunchy.

Iceberg lettuce is firmer than other lettuces and is used in sandwiches and hamburgers because it is better able to tolerate heat. It can be used to wrap warm spring rolls to facilitate handling.

Batavia lettuce

Also called Batavian endive, this variety of lettuce has large, curly, jagged leaves. The heart of the lettuce is bulky but not as firm as the head lettuce. The Batavia lettuce is best served with spicy seasoning.

Mesclun

From the Provençal word for mixture, mesclun is a mix of wild baby greens. Mesclun normally includes young escarole, radicchio, chicory, dandelion, oak leaf, arugula and sorrel. Ready-to-eat mesclun is normally sold loose or in plastic trays.

When buying mesclun, look for fresh, tender, brightly-coloured leaves that show no sign of withering. Serve mesclun as an appetizer with goat cheese, chicken or duck liver, thin slices of pork (lardons) and croutons.



Culinary tips and advice

  • Look for bright, firm and crunchy leaves.
  • Clean under running water, do not soak. Drain and dry.
  • Always use your fingers to tear the lettuce; a knife will cause the lettuce to rust.
  • Make sure no water is left on the leaves for the vinaigrette to pull the ingredients together properly.
  • Depending on the varieties, eat raw or cooked.
  • Use in sandwiches and salads with other ingredients such as vegetables, cheese, cold cuts, vinaigrettes, mayonnaise, fresh herbs, spices, etc.
  • Sliced or shredded lettuce can be added to soups just before serving.

Expert Tip

Puréed lettuce leaves make an excellent soup.

Availability

Most of the above varieties are available year-round in your Metro supermarket.

Nutritional value

Very low in energy, lettuce has very high water content. It contains many vitamins and minerals that can differ depending on the variety. The greener the lettuce, the more vitamins and minerals it contains.

Storage life

Properly washed and dried lettuce leaves should be refrigerated wrapped in a paper towel and placed in a perforated plastic bag. Avoid air-tight containers, or leave slightly open, to prevent humidity build-up. Lettuce will keep for about one week in the refrigerator.


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