Our Lettuce Place
I think I may have overdone it. For the first time, I’m a little tired of kale salads. After months of preparing them all sorts of different way, massaging the leaves to make them tender, experimenting with marinated mushrooms, different dressings and nuts galore, it’s time for a break. I know in few weeks I’ll be craving them once again, and it will be my go-to green all winter long. But as we approach summer, along with lighter clothes and warmer weather (ahem, until summer fog sets in) I’m looking to lighter foods as well. I marked this transition a few weeks ago when I realized I was craving a light butter lettuce salad to be eaten along side some herb flecked grains. Hot, heavy foods never sound as appealing when it’s nice enough to eat outdoors. Knowing that it won’t be long before we cook things in the oven for the added benefit of taking off the chill, I’m embracing summer cooking as best I can in late spring.
Us San Franciscans have the added benefit of living in a perfect lettuce growing place. Lettuce doesn’t love hot weather, which to my dismay, we don’t get very often. It grows well in containers since because of its relatively shallow root system. At the Garden for the Environment, we have a brilliant “bunk bed” system, where we grow our lettuce in a raised bed on stilted legs, with a second bed underneath. When the irrigation goes on, excess water drains from the top bed and falls underneath to the bed below where we grow shade tolerant edibles.
Additionally lettuce grows quickly, and from planting to eating can feel like no time at all. If you direct seed, the leaves you thin from the bed make delicious micro-greens. Also there’s the option of growing “cut and come again” varieties, also known as loose leaf. You can harvest these leaves as they come (which will re-sprout from a cut stem!), and don’t have to wait for fully formed heads before harvesting. Romaine, Bibb, butter lettuces etc. are all usually harvested in one larger head and benefit from staggered planting so you have a steady supply of salads.
I love this salad dressing recipe, although it can be a bit fussier than some other recipes out there. If you’re interested in learning to segment citrus, I highly recommend watching a tutorial on YouTube if my instructions are unclear. Once you get the hang of it, it’s a great method for fruit salads, in yogurt, over ice cream or in dressings. A segmented blood orange is a thing of great beauty! April Bloomfield’s dressing was found on a great recipe website, Food52. Serve with your favorite lettuce, that won’t wilt under these bold flavors. I like something buttery that has adequate crunch.
Lemon Caper Dressing
By, April Bloomfield from the cookbook A Girl and Her Pig
Makes about 1 cup
2 medium lemons
3 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons drained capers, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt
1/2 teaspoon superfine sugar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Segment the lemons over a bowl to catch the juices (see note below). Set aside.
Squeeze the juice from the membranes into a separate bowl, add the rest of the ingredients, and stir well.
Add the lemon segments and toss gently to coat them without breaking them up. Use straightaway or chill in the fridge, covered, for up to an hour.
Note: To segment the lemons (or any citrus for that matter): Use a sharp, small knife to cut off just enough of the fruit's top and bottom to expose a full circle of the flesh on either end. Stand the lemon on one of its ends, place your knife point at the seam where the fruit meets the pith (the white under the peel), and use a gentle sawing motion to cut away a wide strip of pith and skin, following the curve of the fruit from top to bottom. Try your best to remove all the pith, but keep as much of the fruit meat as possible. Repeat the process until all you have left is a nice, round, naked fruit. If you've missed any white pith, trim it off. Holding the fruit gently in one hand, start with one segment, and make a cut down one side, right against the membrane. When your knife stops (has met the center) slide it against the other side of the membrane, freeing the segment in the middle. Flick out any seeds, and set the segments aside in a bowl, reserving the juicy membranes.