lettuce patch

Every spring, we plant mounds of lettuce.

Every summer, mounds end up in the compost bin.

We simply can’t keep up with it. So every fall, we vow not to plant so large a lettuce patch next spring.

But oh … when winter comes and it’s time to order garden seeds, all our willpower vanishes. We’re wooed! Wooed by red leaf, bibb and romaine. Wooed by green leaf, endive and escarole.

And then …

lettuce bowl

“We cannot waste this lettuce!”

I’m staring at a bowl of red leaf and bibb, wondering how many sandwiches I can adorn with this bounty; how many salads we can eat during this day; how many baskets I can send to our neighbors. “I wish I could cook with this!”

Guess what?

I can.

Sure, I’ve known for awhile that I can cook with hearty lettuces. We love grilled romaine, and escarole is one of our favorite add-ins to soups and stews.

But this year’s lettuce crop is of the tender variety. I can’t see plopping a head of delicate red leaf or flowery bibb on the Weber grill.

But soup? I can make soup! I can make lettuce soup, according to a recipe in the Gourmet Today cookbook.

Surely, this will not work, I say as I dump almost a pound of red leaf into sauteed onions, pototoes and 3 cups of water:

lettuce in pan

Surely, this is a mistake, I muse as I prepare to puree what looks like a wilted, olive-drab mess:

lettuce cooked

But lo and behold … the soup emerges from my blender smooth and silky and deeply green:

lettuce soup

It’s warm and wonderfully aromatic. It has an unusual, delicate taste with notes of lemon and spice. It’s a perfect foil for the flank steak we’re eating with it, but I can see floating fish in it or serving it as a light summer lunch. (Sans the side salad …)

I will make this soup again. In fact, I’m looking forward to playing with it:

  • I can’t wait to try it with different lettuce varieties. Arugula and curly endive would be too bitter, but Belgian endive would be lovely, considering the caramel flavor it takes on when braised. Bibb lettuce would have a cleaner, “greener” flavor than the red leaf I used. Romaine would make a heartier soup. Escarole, too.
  • I’d like to add some herbs. Basil seems a natural. Tarragon and savory would be good, too, although in small quantities. Cilantro would complement the coriander that’s called for.
  • I want to change up the spices. Cardamom seems a natural. Cumin would be good with escarole. And while not technically a lettuce, spinach and curry would be divine!

I’m not looking at my lettuce patch in alarm anymore. In fact, now that I have all these variations of lettuce soup to try, it might be a bit small.

We need more lettuce next year.

Silky Lettuce Soup (Gourmet Today)

Because it was new to me, I followed this recipe to the proverbial tee, adding only a squirt of lemon juice at the end to brighten it up. But the dish doesn’t need such tender attention. Feel free to use olive oil instead of butter; to use a bit more onion or garlic; and to throw in fresh herbs. You could substitute chicken broth for the water, but only if you’re using a hearty lettuce variety. Otherwise, the soup will taste like poultry — not your lovely garden lettuce!

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 chopped garlic clove
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 3/4 cup diced peeled potato (I used a red-skin potato, but try russet for an even creamier soup)
  • 8 cups coarsely chopped lettuce leaves, ribs included
  • 3 cups water

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large saute pan or a pot over medium-low heat. Add the onion and garlic, and saute until translucent. Stir in the coriander, 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt and 1/4-1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground pepper. Saute for a minute or so.

Add the potato, lettuce and water. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes, until the potato is very tender.

Cool slightly, then transfer to a blender and puree.

Return to the pan and bring to a simmer. Stir in the remaining tablespoon of butter. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt and pepper and a squeeze or two of lemon juice if needed.