Summer Lettuce Soups

lettuce soupMy husband and I, woefully, have a very shaded backyard. Nothing but hostas and the occasional mushroom grow there. Fortunately, we have been able to dig into two community gardens. We have a small plot in the Catskill Community Garden and we share another garden with friends in Athens.

Lettuce has always done well in our Athens plot. This year was no exception. I feel a bit disrespectful to the prolific plants, but I’m getting a little tired of eating salad. We pick and pick and there is still more. Plus, it’s all starting to bolt. That in garden speak means it’s about to go to seed. We need to eat it all before it does. I know, it’s hard to hear someone whine about having too many garden-fresh greens, but if you’re like me, you might be trying to think of ways to use your bumper crop.

This year we planted mache, also known as corn salad or lamb’s lettuce. I wasn’t sure how to pronounce it. One of the garden friends, David, learned the proper pronunciation when he was in a restaurant in Paris and he saw mache soup on the menu. He asked what mache soup was. The waiter, with just the right amount of distain that one would hope for in a Parisian waiter, corrected David’s pronunciation and quipped that an American just wouldn’t understand, but it was a type of lettuce.

I learned two things. One, how to correctly pronounce mache (it rhymes with “posh”) and two, you can make soup from lettuce. The waiter was probably right. I dare say, most Americans’ reaction might be, “Lettuce soup?!” said, perhaps, with a bit of disgust. We like our lettuce crisp.

If you can set aside any preconceived notions about lettuce, a whole new culinary world opens up. You can toss it in a stir-fry, throw it on the grill and yes, make lettuce soup. Lettuce soup is delicious, healthy and frugal. The beauty of this soup is that it works fine with lettuce that’s a little past its prime. I’m not suggesting that you use rotting lettuce, but the wilting lettuce that you bought at the farmers market last weekend might be the perfect candidate.

I tried two versions, a cold uncooked one and a cooked version, which was delicious both hot and chilled. The cold version was a delightfully bright-green color. The cooked version was not. The combo of the potatoes and balsamic vinegar darken the color considerably. My preference is for the uncooked version. It is a nice, bright, refreshingly tangy soup. It was a little too tart for my husband. He loved the rich, cooked version. My favorite self-serve farm stand has bags of lettuce for a buck each, so it won’t break the bank to try both!

Lettuce can often collect dirt, especially if you are picking it fresh after a hard night’s rain. There is a trick to washing greens. First trim off the roots and separate the leaves and rinse. Place leaves in a large bowl of water and swish them around a bit. It’s important to lift the lettuce out of the water since the dirt will fall to the bottom of the bowl. You may need to repeat this a couple of times.

Tangy Lettuce Soup
If you love things on the tart side, use two tablespoons of lemon juice. Use any type of lettuce. Try adding a few herbs, like basil, mint or parsley to get a more complex flavor.

Ingredients
5-6 cups lettuce, torn into small pieces
1/3 cup onions chopped
2 cups plain yogurt
1/3 cup water
1-2 Tablespoons lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste

Method

  • Place all ingredients in a blender and process until smooth. Add more water if the soup it too thick. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Refrigerate a few hours before serving. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Garnish with thin slices of radish or carrot. Serves 4 as a first course.


Potato Lettuce Soup

I like to make this with peppery arugula.

Ingredients
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
5 cups of water or vegetable stock
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
5-6 cups of lettuce, torn into small pieces
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Plain yogurt for garnish (optional)

Method

  • In a large pot, heat oil over medium heat until hot. Add onions and sauté until onions become translucent.
  • Add potatoes and garlic and sauté for couple of minutes, stirring often. Be careful not to let the garlic brown.
  • Add water, salt and pepper. Simmer for ten minutes
  • Add lettuce and simmer until the potatoes are soft. Add vinegar and adjust seasoning.
  • Use an immersion blender to puree soup. You can also use a traditional blender. Let the soup cool a bit before transferring it to the blender. Be sure to keep a towel and your hand firmly on the blender lid. Hot soup has a tendency to spew. Serve warm or chilled with a dollop of plain yogurt.

Serves 4 as a first course.