It is officially mid-summer around here on Long Island NY. The days are very hot, sticky and humid. Awesome weather if you are a plant I guess. It is the kind of weather that makes you crave a cool refreshing salad with produce picked right off the garden.
Since our tomatoes have so far refused to turn any shade of red, we have been hitting our lettuces and the like pretty heavily. So much that some have now grown very tall and look like some sort of palm tree.
A few evenings ago I went out to collect an assortment of greens for a fresh dinner salad. I picked about a pound of leaves altogether. I had red ones, green ones, mottled ones, smooth ones and ruffled ones too, a good looking mixed bunch.
I washed it, spin dried it, chopped it, and then mixed it with cucumber I picked early that day, some red onion and store bought tomato. For dressing I used a quick balsamic vinaigrette, nothing fancy but a favorite at our house.
I don’t think I exaggerate when I say our salad tasted as if I had made it with freshly picked oak leaves. Crunchy and fresh but awfully bitter. After washing the taste with plenty of water, my mind rushed to the garden, what were we going to do with all that lettuce still out there? There was still plenty of lettuce, radicchio and Swiss chard to feed our family for a few days. The thought of having to trash it all was not a happy one, I hate to waste food.
An online search on bitter lettuce will lead you to bolting lettuce, and will give you suggestions on how to prevent or minimize the bitterness in leafy greens. Below are some I have tried and somewhat seem to work for us.
Heat not only makes lettuce go to seed (bolting), but somewhat stresses the lettuce and that makes it taste bitter, so avoid picking leaves during or at the end of the day. I find it best to harvest the lettuce very early in the morning before the sun has had a chance to warm up too much.
Wash, select and hydrate the lettuce by placing the leaves right side up in a bowl with cold water for at least 6 hours. We make mixed heads of lettuce by placing the smaller leaves in the center and surround them with larger leaves.
Of course, taking care of late season lettuce as detailed above does not make it as sweet as it was in the spring when it was young and tender, but certainly makes it a lot less bitter and definitely edible. Also, once you mix it with other vegetables and a nice salad dressing, any hint of leftover bitterness cannot be tasted. Nonetheless, avoid using the older tougher leaves, or stems of those greens that have turned fuzzy, those are definitely best in your compost.
Hope this works for you too, even if it gets you a couple more decent salads it is well worth it. In a few weeks you can start all over again with a new planting for fall and early winter harvest.
For more information on keeping lettuce check one of my older posts