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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.