LAMB’S LETTUCE

November 17, 2014

In case you have the feeling that my ‘food basics’ posts are a bit random – they are not! At least not entirely :) I’m looking for food that is in season, strikes me as interesting and most of all looks delicious!

LAMB’S LETTUCE

Lamb’s lettuce is a small annual plant with long, spoon-shaped, dark green colored leaves [2-4 cm long] and a characteristic nutty [sometimes peppery] flavor. It’s technically not a lettuce – not even related to it – but a herb! The closest relation is to valerian [Baldrian].

It is most commonly used as a salad green. The name comes from the lettuce’s resemblance to the size and shape of a lamb’s tongue – or ear – or because lambs really like it [I found so many different explanations].

I don’t think I have ever encountered something with that many different names. In english – lamb’s lettuce, white pot herb, corn salad, mâche, fetticus, loblollie, nut lettuce and field salad. In german – Feldsalat, Vogerlsalat, Rapunzel, Sonnewirbele, Ackersalat, Mausohrsalat or Nüssli. I love where the name ‘Rapunzel’ comes from – it really is the Brother Grimm tale! ‘Sweet and tender once grew fine plants in the garden of the evil sorceress, where she, as her greatest asset, cordoned them by a high wall from the environment. Only one man dared over this hurdle, stole the tender leaves and was caught by the sorceress. In order to spare his life, he promised his firstborn, which would of course carry the name Rapunzel’

When I researched Lamb’s lettuce facts for this post I was very surprised to find that it’s considered a delicacy and apparently sells for lots of money. Here in Austria it’s more of a weed [almost a garden pest] that grows on waste lands and under our raspberries. Once it likes a space you will have a hard time getting rid of it. It grows wild in parts of Europe, northern Africa and western Asia. Most of our cultivated crops come from around Nantes, France.

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SEASON

Lamb’s lettuce is known as a winter green. It is a hardy plant that can withstand freezing temperatures [as low as -15°C], even snow. Seeds planted in the fall can be harvested throughout the winter months. Even after a few weeks of snow covering the leaves remain lush and the flavor is still mild an delicate. Here in Austria you will be able to buy the lettuce from September to April.

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SHOPPING + STORAGE

When shopping at the farmers market go for the springy and not wilted ones with dark and narrow leaves. Young leaves have a slightly nutty, tartly sweet flavor with a satisfying crispness. As they age they become bitter! The lettuce should be purchased with the root still attached [or cut just above] so the rosette stays intact.

If you grow it yourself – it’s best gathered before flowers appear. You can pick the whole rosettes or harvest by plucking individual leaves [it has a maximum of 20 leaves].

Picked leaves perishes quickly and should be used within two or three days of purchase. Best stored in an airtight plastic bag in the vegetable compartment in your fridge [wash first and place in the bag while still wet].

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PREPARATION + CULINARY USE

Be sure to wash and drain lamb’s lettuce thoroughly before using! They grow close to the ground and can be quite sandy and gritty. Remove the roots – but try to keep the rosettes together. A short bath in ice water will make possibly wilted leaves crisp again. Marinate your lettuce right before serving – otherwise the leaves will go limp fast!

Use raw – in salads, especially along with stronger flavored greens [arugula, chicory, endive, rocket, mustard leaves, dandelion,…]

Use steamed – served like spinach or beet greens [lightly braised with oil]

Lamb’s lettuce goes well with nuts [walnut oil, pecans, walnuts], hearty meat [like bacon], cheese [cream cheese, warm goat cheese], onion, fresh mushrooms, fruit [pears, apples, oranges, pomegranate arils] and red beet. It is often added to soups, egg dishes, and stuffings. In Austria you will most likely get it with warm potatoes and drizzled with pumpkin seed oil.

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NUTRITIONAL VALUE

Many country folk used the herb as a spring medicine, against stomach pains and a homeopathic tincture was made from the fresh root. The valerian oil contained in the roots and partially the leaves is used as a nerve tonic pharmaceutically.

Like other greens, lamb’s lettuce has many nutrients, including three times as much vitamin C as lettuce, beta-carotene, B6, iron and potassium. Being a natural source of omega-3s it helps control cholesterol levels, which reduces inflammation and helps reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease. It also contains folic acid which is believed to reduce depression. Right after parsley lamb’s lettuce is the vegetables with the second highest iron deposits. Potassium, calcium and phosphorus are going a help to get you through the cold winter months in a good mood.

Nutritional value  per 100g  [% of Daily Value]

  • Energy                        14 kcal
  • Carbohydrates          0.7   g
  • Sugar                          82.12 g
  • Dietary fiber              0.2       g
  • Fat                               0.4    g
  • Protein                       2    g
  • Provitamin A            663 [142%]
  • Vitamin B6               0.3 mg [14%]
  • Vitamin C                  38.2  mg [64%]
  • Vitamin E                  0.6 mg
  • Folic Acid                  145 µg
  • Calcium                      38      mg [4%]
  • Iron                             2.2     mg [12%]
  • Magnesium                13     mg [3%]
  • Potassium                  459   mg [13%]
  • Sodium                        4        mg [0%]
  • Zinc                             0.6   mg [4%]

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