This summer’s bounty so far has been very lettuce heavy, and I’m sure many of you are wondering what else you can do with the overabundance of leafy goodness besides gorging yourself on salad. Even I, a tried and true salad devotee, am starting to tire of it. For this reason, I ventured out of my comfort zone, as per the suggestion of a fellow CSA member and neighbor, and tried my hand at Lettuce Soup.
I know, I know, it sounds weird. The sound of it may even activate your gag reflex. But I assure you, it is a great dish. Lettuce, in soup, has a mouthfeel similar to that of escarole in the famous Brooklyn-Italian dish “Shcarole”, made with a clear broth, escarole and pepperoni slices. After searching on the web for recipe ideas, I found that many called for a potato base, but I thought using yellow split peas might be more interesting and given the fact that I had the peas in my pantry but no potatoes, it was a go! I served this lovely dish with steamed beets and broiled salmon, which made for a very nice and colorful early summer dinner. It is a great dish for young kids because not only is it rich in flavor and flashy in color, but it has a thick, velvety consistency that is filling. Also, it’s a good medium for use in spoon practice for those toddlers because it isn’t as liquidy as other soups and also resembles finger paint. My kids eat this up.
Yellow Split Pea and Lettuce Soup
2 cups dried yellow split peas, rinsed
8 cups water
2 large or 4 small carrots
1 small onion
2 garlic cloves
1/2 head lettuce (Boston Red works best, but any variety will work)
2-3 whole scallion stalks
1 bay leaf
3 tsp turmeric
2 tsp dill
salt/pepper/onion powder/garlic powder to taste
Boil the peas in the water with a pinch of salt and bay leaf. When half-cooked, add the carrots, onions and scallions, chopped, and the garlic cloves, smashed. Wait for all ingredients to fully cook, until soft. Remove bay leaf. Use a hand blender to puree the contents of the pot.
Once pureed, add the seasonings and replace the bay leaf. Cover and cook on low flame for a few more minutes. Turn off the flame and add the lettuce leaves, chopped into inch-wide strips from tip to base. Stir well before serving.
*Optional: This soup is so hearty that you can serve it as a meal in a cup. To round out the meal and throw in some extra protein, add 1/2 cup of Quinoa grain to the pot, with an extra cup of water to compensate and/or sprinkle with shredded cheese or tofu pieces.
Another recipe I will share is for the Swiss Chard that we got last week. It is very simple and a great way to get those tough greens into your diet as a raw component, and I swear that my two-year-old sons adore it. Greens such as chard, kale and collards are essential to a healthy diet, but can be difficult to get into our young ones’ mouths since they are tough to chew and boiling them can suck out the nutrients as well as the flavor. This recipe is great because it gives the greens a crunchy texture, since they are uncooked, and the zing of the lemon, vinegar and salt gives them an exciting burst of flavor. You can use any hearty green leafy, or even cabbage, for this one. I have not included measured amounts for the dressing ingredients because I always go by taste, and tend to have an unconventional method of measuring, as you will see in the instructions below.
Swiss Chard Slaw
1 bunch Swiss Chard
juice of one lemon
After thoroughly washing and trimming the chard leaves, take 3 to 4 at a time, roll into a “cigar” shape and use a large Santoku knife (or equivalent) to chop the roll into skinny slivers. Once the whole roll has been sliced, cut the whole thing down the middle. Place into a glass bowl, preferably one with a lid (I really prefer not to use plastic here, since we are using high-acid ingredients). Sprinkle the desired amount of salt over the chard and toss. Juice the entire lemon over the chard. In a circular motion drizzle olive oil over the chard, going around about 3 times (this is how I measure it). Do the same with the rice vinegar. This probably adds up to between 1/8 and 1/4 cup of each. Use the flat side of the knife to smash the garlic clove and drop it into the mixture. If you are using a bowl that has a plastic “Tupperware”-type lid, replace it and do the shakey-shakey dance with it to evenly distribute the dressing throughout the chard. If your bowl has no lid, mix it well with a fork and cover it with a dish rather than plastic wrap or foil. Allow the mixture to sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes. Check it and, if it seems marinated enough to be palatable, enjoy! You may need to retoss and let it sit for a bit longer, or you may decide to add more vinegar or salt. The idea is to get a really pungent and sour flavor. If you plan to eat it later, cover with lid or dish and place in the refrigerator.
This dish will probably last for a long time, although in my house it tends to disappear within 24 hours. Prepare for the chard to wilt to about half its original volume. If I don’t have time to chop up the whole bunch, I’ll doctor it up after a couple of days. I like to use turmeric in this dish because I use turmeric in most of my dishes, since it has a very light, sometimes almost undetectable taste and is believed to have powerful cancer-fighting properties. So if I can sneak it in to almost everything I eat, why not do it? The only thing to be careful about is that is also a very powerful yellow dye!