Leaf lettuce is a lettuce with an open growth habit, which forms loose clusters of leaves rather than a tight head. There are a number of varieties, including red leaf lettuce and butter lettuce. There are a wide range of uses for this vegetable, ranging from salads to taco fillings. It is vary easy to grow and is readily available in most markets, for people who do not want to cultivate their own lettuce.
Some other varieties of lettuce include head lettuce, which forms tightly furled heads of leaves, and cos lettuce, which forms an elongated cluster of leaves, as is the case with Romaine lettuce, a popular cos variety. These lettuces have different tastes, textures, and nutritional values, and they also mature at different rates. Many people like to grow a mixed lettuce garden with several varieties so that their diets will be diverse, but since leaf lettuces grow so quickly and easily, they often make up the majority of a garden.
As leaf lettuce grows, it forms a loosely arranged rosette of irregularly shaped and sized leaves. The leaves are often very lightweight and ruffly, with a wrinkly surface and a soft, almost velvety texture. They are not as crisp and crunchy as some head lettuces, but are instead more soft and delicate. In addition to being served washed and raw, the leaves can also be lightly wilted for warm salads.
The nutritional value of leaf lettuce varies, depending on the cultivar. Like other leafy greens, it can have lots of calcium and other minerals, especially if it is grown on rich organic soil. It also tends to be very fragile and should be consumed within a few days of harvest, before it wilts or becomes slimy. Like other lettuces, the leaves should always be washed before they are eaten to remove any dirt or insects.
When picking out lettuce in the market, shoppers should look for crisp specimens without discolored or slimy spots. Leaf lettuce will keep best if it still has roots, because the roots can be wrapped in a wet towel or left in a dish of water. If no roots are present, cooks should shake the lettuce to remove droplets of water and wrap it in plastic until they intend to eat it. It can be used in salads, sandwiches, and a variety of other foods.