Wednesday, June 3, 2009


This is the lettuce I brought home yesterday after our first CSA pickup from The Food Project in Lincoln, MA. I love everything about this organization. The food is just gorgeous - hence the beginnings of my summer obsession with photographing vegetables in strange and intimate ways, which befuddles my children. But look at the color! The Food Project's philosophy, which values sustainable agriculture, community development, and educating young people, is so completely wonderful that it's sort of hard to believe. All that and garlic scapes, too...

Yesterday's share was small, but with such promise of summer: lettuce, bok choy, radishes, scallions, chive blossoms and mint. The herbs have me thinking about compound butters, but more about that later. The lettuce, in addition to being as beautiful as any flower, was crisp and full of flavor. I grew up thinking that the bland white leaves of iceberg lettuce that sat in our refrigerator for, apparently, weeks without noticeable change were what lettuce was supposed to be. I feel a bit weepy when I think about BLTs made with dessicated bacon, iceberg lettuce, spongy white bread, mealy tomatoes (that had been refrigerated - shudder) and Miracle Whip. Fortunately, those childhood experiences didn't leave me permanently scarred, and I was willing to give lettuce another try later in life.

When I've reached my limit on BLTs and salads, I turn to the lettuce wrap to renew my faith in this leafy green. I like to use big lettuce leaves as containers for what might otherwise build a really great sandwich (and I get to feel self-righteous about it, too, for abstaining from bread). My favorite lettuce wrap fillings:

- a mixture of browned ground pork and ground turkey or veal (in equal proportions), seasoned with sauteed chopped onion, soy sauce and oyster sauce (about 1-2 T of each sauce per pound of meat)
- avocado, cucumber and very thinly sliced seared tuna or raw sushi grade tuna, with just a splash of hot sauce or wasabi
- rice noodles (mai fun), mung bean sprouts, cucumber and mint leaves, with Pungent Dipping Sauce (see recipe below)
- any mix of julienned raw vegetables and sprouts with ginger-miso salad dressing
- very thinly sliced fennel, a bit of grated ginger, turkey breast and beets

Needless to say, the possibilites for lettuce wraps are endless.

Pungent Dipping Sauce

I love this sauce and will happily find just about any excuse to eat it. You can dip carrots, jicama or radishes in it and slurp away, but it's really best with some sort of Asian spring or summer roll.
  • 2 T fish sauce
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 T fresh lime juice
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 T cane sugar or white sugar
  • dried red pepper flakes, to taste
In a small sauce pan over medium-low heat, mix the fish sauce, water, lime juice and sugar, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved. Add the garlic and continue to heat, stirring, for about 1 minute. Add the red pepper flakes and remove from heat. Allow the sauce to cool to room temperature before serving with lettuce wraps, spring rolls, or over grilled meats. The sauce will keep, covered and refrigerated, for about a week.

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