In Season: Lettuce

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In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue, but he also introduced lettuce to the New World—making him responsible for your lunch salad. Lettuce, depending on the variety, can either be a crisp, flavorless canvas for more celebrated produce, or frilly-edged and bitter, as in the case of Chinese lettuce.

If you grew up in the US, you're probably most familiar with raw lettuce. Western preparations view lettuce as a vegetal canvas or a textural addition: you'll find it torn up as a salad, shredded for taco greenery, or stacked in a sandwich. The Chinese prefer stir fries to raw salads, and give their greens a whirl in a hot wok to wilt them. They're also the world's top lettuce and chicory producer, clocking in at an estimated 12 million tons of the stuff in 2007.

Common types include the much-maligned Iceberg, the salad standby Romaine, Bibb, Chinese, and Looseleaf lettuce. Despite its mild reputation, lettuce actually has a dark past. The Greeks thought that lettuce was a sleep aid, and indeed, it contains lactucarium ("Lettuce Opium") which is a mild sedative. The research is a bit fuzzy on how much and to what effect.

When buying lettuce, look for well-shaped and colored leaves without yellowing or wilting. Clean and thoroughly dry it after purchase and keep in the crisper.

Recipes

What are some of your favorite lettuce recipes?