What is Loose Leaf Lettuce?
Loose leaf lettuce is a lettuce variety that does not form a compact head. There are numerous different types of lettuce with loose leaves, with basic red and green being the most common. This lettuce varietal is very easy to grow, and it can be flexibly used in a wide variety of recipes, making it a popular choice for the garden and market. Most markets and greengrocers carry several types of this lettuce, and it is also possible to grow it at home.
The leaves on a head of loose leaf lettuce arrange themselves around a central stalk. They tend to be slightly curly, with firm central ribs. In slightly older lettuce, the leaves tend to splay out, while younger lettuces may be more upright. The flavor is mild and sometimes a bit sweet, with a hint of butter; red lettuce can also be a bit spicy.
In the market, shoppers should look for heads with firm leaves and no signs of discoloration, slime, or spotting. When they bring the lettuce home, cooks should keep it loosely wrapped in a plastic bag, and fold a wet towel around the base of the lettuce so it will last longer. Before using it, cooks should always wash the lettuce and check for bugs and slugs that may have traveled to the market with the lettuce.
Sandwiches often include loose leaf lettuce, and it can also be used in salads or as a garnish. It tends to be relatively sturdy and hardy, which can be convenient for a small household that does not go through a lot of lettuce. To use a whole head, cooks can twist the base of the lettuce off and dump the leaves into a colander or salad spinner for washing and drying. It's best to avoid putting washed lettuce back in the fridge, as it can spot, wilt, or develop slimy spots.
People who want to grow loose leaf lettuce can plant seeds in a well composted bed or box after the last chance of frost. They should keep the soil moist, but not soggy, and harvest the lettuce as desired. Many people like to stagger their lettuce plantings so that they have a steady supply of lettuce, and growers can also mix lettuce varietals for more variation so that they don't get tired of eating the same type. If lettuce is left in the ground too long, it will go to seed, in which case the leaves will be bitter and papery.
@seag47 – I grow lettuce, and red sails lettuce does not taste bitter. I know that taste that you are referring to, and I've picked up on it in other types of red lettuce.
Red sails lettuce is a mixture of green and red. The tips of the lettuce are more concentrated with red, while the lower parts are green.
To me, it has a slightly sweet taste with a hint of spice. You will not detect even a hint of bitterness in this type of lettuce.
It tastes great with raspberry vinaigrette dressing or a light red wine dressing, because both bring out the sweetness. I've even had it with Italian dressing for a sweet and salty combination.
I once tried a salad made with mixed greens, and I noticed that the red lettuce in it had a slightly bitter flavor. I ended up picking out this lettuce, because it was ruining the salad. I really enjoyed the spinach and green leaf lettuce, though.
Does all red lettuce taste bitter, or is it just a certain kind? It looks really good in a salad bowl, and it would be nice to be able to use it when I have company over. However, I'm not going to ruin my guests' salads with something so bitter.
@wavy58 – Perhaps you should try another grocery store! They shouldn't be keeping the lettuce wet like that.
Green leaf lettuce is one of my favorite loose leaf lettuce varieties. It contains vitamins B and K, and it is a more nutritious lettuce than iceberg, which is basically just a filler. Iceberg lettuce has no flavor, either, and green leaf lettuce has a distinctive garden taste.
I grow my own, so I don't have to contend with shopping markets. I think that garden-grown lettuce probably has more flavor than the store variety.
I love eating green loose leaf lettuce in my salads and on bologna sandwiches. I just wish that I could buy less of it at a time than my grocery store offers.
I never use it all up before it goes limp. It probably doesn't help that the grocery store workers periodically spray the lettuce with water, so it stays damp in the partially open package. I have to take it home, wash it off, and dry it with several paper towels.
The curly edges get slimy first. If they are slick, then I know that it is time to throw the lettuce out.
The leaves are picked individually, similarly to spinach, a few at a time.
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