There’s MORE to Lettuce than Filling Salad

We always hear we should eat more leafy greens, and now’s the time to indulge—lettuce season is here. But how many salads do you want in a day? Thank goodness there’s more to lettuce than just filling salad.

First let’s start with its health benefits: While many lettuces are unsung nutritional champions, not all lettuce is created equal. For instance, iceberg doesn’t contain near the amount of vitamins (A and K, especially) and minerals (particularly iron) that romaine, butter, or green-leaf lettuces do.

Now for the salad alternatives. Here are some delicious and easy ways to sneak the green leafies into your diet that are a welcome break from salad:

Why not in soups and sauces? It might sound odd, but lettuce adds a lovely flavor profile when pureed into soups. One flavor combination we like is in a recipe I found on a favorite site, Care2. It pairs lettuce with spinach and parsley:


2 tablespoons olive oil
2 shallots, minced
1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch fresh spinach, very coarsely chopped
1 head romaine lettuce, torn into large pieces
1 head Boston lettuce, torn into large pieces
1 generous handful fresh parsley leaves
1 handful fresh watercress
6 cups water or vegetable broth
salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup cream or milk (more if needed)

1. In a large soup pot over medium heat, heat the olive oil. Add the shallots, garlic, and greens. Once the greens begin to wilt, cover the pot and braise them, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes.

2. Add stock or water and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer and allow to cook for 5 minutes. Scoop out the solids and process in a food processor or blender with a bit of broth until nearly smooth.

3. Return greens to soup pot and add cream or milk. Stir thoroughly to combine, adding more cream to thin if necessary, and allow soup to heat through, then serve.

Cold soups are delicious with pureed lettuce added to them. Cold cucumber soup comes to mind.

I also will add chopped lettuce to any noodle soup. And the flavor is really jazzed up when you include sautéed mushrooms.

Finally, I often add minced lettuce to my minced basil when I’m making pesto. The lettuce adds a flavor layer that’s really good.

Smoothies are another great place for lettuce. Lettuce blends in easier than hardier greens like kale and collards, and the flavor isn’t as intense. Lettuce works well with mango, all berries, apples, and kiwi. And one of my favorite combinations is lettuce and watermelon. Oh boy!

Akin to smoothies would be popsicles. They are really just delicious smoothies frozen in popsicle molds. Lettuce blends in so well with the fruit. Sicle-lovers will never know it’s there. I call them “Monster Pops” (which pleases the kids in the crowd).

Lastly, let’s wrap it up with lettuce wraps. Those who want to avoid gluten or cut back on grains have already discovered how nicely lettuce can substitute for slices of bread. I blend avocado with a smidge of mayonnaise and spread my lettuce leaves with this. Then I layer on the sandwich fixings and either roll into a wrap or top with another lettuce leaf. What I’ve noticed about this type of sandwich is how easily it’s digested. Lettuce is so body-friendly because of its high water content and vitamin and mineral load.

So while salads are always good, and lettuce definitely belongs there, thinking outside the box is a nice way to use all the fresh lettuce that’s available now. There really is so much more to lettuce than just filling salad!

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    Alice Osborne
    Weekly Newsletter Contributor since 2006
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