Lettuce be lovers, we’ll marry our fortunes together
Food for thought

Lettuce be lovers, we’ll marry our fortunes together

An ode to the unsung properties of green leaves, used in smoothies, salads and vegetable rolls

Phyllis Glazer is an American-born food journalist based in Tel Aviv, Israel. She is the author of several cookbooks that have been published in Hebrew, German, and Italian, and appears frequently on television and radio in Israel.

Hydroponic lettuce growing in a greenhouse (photo credit: Liron Almog/Flash 90)
Hydroponic lettuce growing in a greenhouse (photo credit: Liron Almog/Flash 90)

I’ve been thinking about lettuce. Not the pale round globe I knew from the States as iceberg lettuce, which in Israel is called hasa agula or round lettuce, but rather the long-leafed romaine, referred to here as Arab lettuce (hasa aravit).

There are actually several types of lettuce in Israel besides iceberg and romaine — such as the curly and flat-leafed green and red lettuces, and I love them all. It must be my rabbit genes.

Hasa Aravit, or Arab lettuce, the most common lettuce found in the supermarket (photo credit: Anatoly Michaelo/Courtesy Keter Publishers)
Hasa Aravit, or Arab lettuce, the most common lettuce found in the supermarket (photo credit: Anatoly Michaelo/Courtesy Keter Publishers)

Although many people pooh-pooh lettuce as being practically devoid of nutritional value, low-cal lettuce can be a good source of vitamins, mineral and phytonutrients, depending on the color of the lettuce; the darker the leaf, the richer it is in nutrients. Romaine lettuce, for example, is 17% protein, and a source of calcium, omega-3s, vitamin C, iron, B-vitamins, vitamin A, copper, magnesium, phosphorus, selenium and zinc, among others, with low levels of oxalic acid.

While I mostly eat lettuce in salads, and have even been known to add lettuce to an occasional stir-fry, for anyone with a small appetite and/or difficulty chewing, I recommend adding lettuce to a smoothie. (I recently suggested to a client to add a few leaves to a morning drink, and within a week she felt so invigorated, she was juicing almost the entire head).

A super-trendy drink these days, green smoothies are usually made with various green leaves like lettuce or fresh herbs (the leaves always need to be chopped or torn and added at the end after the rest of the ingredients are pulverized), fruit (like bananas or mango), flax seed or wheat germ, and water, yogurt, almond or another substitute milk, or freshly squeezed juice. Rich in fiber and chlorophyll, both green and regular fruit smoothies are a quick and convenient way to consume a variety of fruits and vegetables in an easily digestible way that improves nutrient assimilation.

But don’t forget — lettuce can be used in other creative ways as well; the miniature romaine lettuces are perfect “plates” for a variety of toppings, and in the following recipe you’ll find it can be stuffed as well.

Asian-style lettuce rolls stuffed with veggies and tofu (4 servings)

  • 2 dried or regular mushrooms
  • 1 tablespoon coconut or other oil
  • 2 teaspoons grated ginger
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 cup carrot, cut into matchsticks
  • 1 cup bean sprouts
  • Half cup celery, cut into matchsticks
  • Half cup scallions, cut into matchsticks
  • 125 grams tofu, crumbled
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sherry or brandy (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons dark sesame oil
  • 12 large romaine lettuce leaves
  1. Soak the dry mushrooms in hot water until plump, remove stems and slice.
  2. Heat a large frying pan or wok and pour in the oil. Add ginger and garlic, stir them around a bit and then add mushrooms, carrots, sprouts, celery, scallions and tofu. Stir-fry for just about 3 minutes until warm and beginning to color.
  3. Mix soy sauce, wine and sesame oil and pour over the vegetable mixture. Stir-fry another minute or two and remove from heat.
  4. Put the lettuce leaves in a small bowl and pour boiling water over. Let stand a minute and drain (you can also dip each leaf individually in a pot of boiling water). Remove the hard part of the back of each lettuce leaf so it’s possible to flatten it on the table.
  5. Dry with a paper towel. Put a tablespoon of the filling in the wide side of each leaf, fold the sides in and roll up from the bottom. If you need to, use a toothpick to keep them in place. Serve warmed or at room temperature with a dipping sauce of soy sauce, sesame oil and a little honey and ginger.

Adapted from “Phyllis’ Kitchen” by Phyllis Glazer, Keter Publishers.

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