Lettuce and salad greens of all types are among the most popular early season vegetable. As my husband and I have been planning our garden, I found myself getting more excited about early season crops than I usually do. I usually have ‘good intentions’, but this year, I’m using a different approach…with my salad greens anyway! I am using a container garden approach for my lettuce, as described in the article from the Tiger Garden shop on MU’s campus, which can be found at this link: https://bit.ly/3sRtYLc
Lettuce, or Lactuca sativa, is an annual plant of the Asteraceae family. Lettuce was first cultivated in ancient Egypt as a seed oil and a medicinal herb, and several varieties are seen in ancient tomb drawings. Cultivation would continue in Ancient Greek and Roman civilizations and was praised by Hippocrates, the father of medicine, for its healing powers. Caesar Augustus is also said to have created a statue to honor the vegetable when it seemingly cured an illness when formal medications had failed.
California dominates lettuce production at around 70% of production, with Arizona producing most of the remaining lettuce needed to feed the average American adult more than 30 pounds of lettuce per year. According to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), more than 8000 million pounds of lettuce was grown in 2015, valued at nearly 1.9 billion dollars.
The most common types of lettuce suitable for growth in the Midwest are butterhead, leaf, and romaine. Head lettuce requires a longer growing season than leaf lettuce and will turn bitter if temperatures in late spring are in the upper 70’s. In addition to growing in container gardens, lettuce can also be started indoors and transplanted or sown directly into soil as soon as soil temperatures reach between 45-55 degrees. If started indoors, seedlings should be gradually adapted to cooler outdoor temperatures before planting, a process known as hardening.
Because of the high water content of lettuce – around 95% - lettuce is often thought to be void of nutrition, however it is a good source of vitamins A, C, and K, as well as potassium and folate. Lettuce that has deeper colors has higher concentration of nutrients, thus varieties like romaine and red leaf lettuce will have more nutrients than traditional iceberg lettuce. Combining lettuce varieties will increase nutritional value as well as appeal when making a salad.
The best spring salad contains variety in color, flavor, and texture. Create additional interest with dressings using different flavored oils and vinegars. Lemon or lime juice can also add tartness without excess acidity. Personalize your dressing with your favorite spices to complete your salad. Dressing should not be added to greens until just before serving to maintain the crisp texture of the greens. Lettuce can also be added to or used as a wrap for a sandwich instead of bread. This copy-cat recipe of one of my favorite restaurant appetizers is a tasty way to use lettuce in lieu of a salad.
Asian Lettuce Wraps
(makes 8 appetizer or 4 meal servings)
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 lb. lean ground chicken
1 cup chopped water chestnuts
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
¼ cup low sodium teriyaki sauce
¼ cup water
1 tablespoon cornstarch
8 large lettuce leaves (Bibb or Romaine work well)
½ cup chopped green onion
¼ cup chopped peanuts
Nutrition information (for 8 servings): Calories: 302, Total Fat: 7g, Saturated Fat: .6g, Sodium: 210mg, Carbohydrates: 6.5g, Fiber: 1g, Protein: 52g
Recipe adapted from MyPlate Kitchen, analyzed by verywellfit.com