Thursday, June 27, 2013

Taking "stalk" of lettuce

Having just returned from an always too-short eating odyssey through SE Asia, I've come home with a long-running list of food discoveries that are begging further exploration.  Although some of the ingredients used in the dishes I ate aren't available outside of their 'home country', the vast majority of them are.  Available yes, known about or even seen by the average shopper, no.

In keeping with the theme of this blog, my goal is to shed some light on the particularly tasty ones as well as experiment with interesting and unconventional applications using them.  In the hopes of not alienating my readers by discussing how to properly steam squid teeth (not available here, I checked), or the correct sous vide temperature for balut (is available, blog post soon) I thought I'd start simple and work my way up. 

Celtuce, like many of the "uncommon ingredients" I cover in this blog, can be found sold under several aliases. Also known as stem lettuce, celery lettuce, asparagus lettuce and Chinese lettuce (notice a theme here?), celtuce IS a type of lettuce but one whose Romaine-like leaves shoot out from a long, hearty stalk rather than emerge directly from the ground.  The taste of the leaves can be bitter, increasingly so with age, making them perfect for applications where one would traditionally use chard or kale.  The stem however, is the business end of this vegetable; quite mild and with an incredibly satisfying crunch. 


The stalk of celtuce is surrounded by a thick and fibrous skin that needs to be removed before eating.  The tender heart of the stem is easily reached using a vegetable peeler or mandolin and is best when eaten raw, lightly steamed/blanched, or quickly stir-fried. If cooking, like all vegetables, be careful not to overdo it lest you end up with a mushy, tasteless green pudding.  When peeling, it's very easy to visually determine the correct amount of outer skin to remove as it contains long white fibers that give way to the obvious milder green, translucent heart. 

Because I think celtuce is best when raw, but writing a food blog that showed readers how to peel and eat a vegetable would be embarrassingly useless, I decided to make a crispy, Summer salad with it instead.  The following recipe is a take on an accompaniment I usually make with cucumber when serving sashimi.  After tasting this dish made with celtuce though, I swear I'll never go back.

Spicy Celtuce Salad

Ingredients                                 grams                                                     U.S. measurement
Celtuce - thinly sliced                    100g                                                              (1 cup)
Celtuce - diced                               50g                                                              (1/2 cup)
Rice wine vinegar                           20g                                                                                    (1 1/2 TB)
Sugar                                            10g                                                                (2 1/2 tsp)
Sesame Oil                                      5g                                                                (1 tsp)
Franks Red Hot                             10g                                                                (2 tsp)
Fresh tomato, cubed                      50g                                                                                     (1/2 cup)
Toasted Sesame seeds                     2g                                                                (1 tsp)

Celtuce - Raw

Celtuce - Peeled 

Remove the tough outer skin of the celtuce using a vegetable peeler or mandolin.  

Celtuce - thinly sliced

After the tough outer skin has been fully removed, continue slicing with a vegetable peeler or mandolin until all of the delicate flesh has been removed. Be careful not to slice too deeply though to avoid incorporating any of the small, white, and sometimes bitter inner core.

Celtuce - cubed

Cut a portion of the peeled celtuce into small dice.  This will add an interesting textural component to the finished salad.

Place the sliced and diced celtuce and cubed tomatoes in a non-reactive mixing bowl and sprinkle with sugar.  Add the sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, hot sauce, and toasted sesame seeds.  Toss and let sit for 5 minutes for the flavors to meld. Plate and enjoy.

Spicy Celtuce Salad


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