Ask Digestivo: Lettuce Get Loud

Chasers for three-digit temperatures and 135,000 test ballots

Welcome, dear readers, to the inaugural edition of ASK DIGESTIVO, your chance to pick our brains (worms and all). Every other week, we’ll go deep on one question and… a little less deep on another! If you’ve got something on your mind – food-related or not so much – shoot us an email at askdigestivo@gmail.com, and we’ll weigh in with enthusiasm, our signature verve, and the authority of 1.75 (and counting!) non-medical doctors.

Thanks to my CSA and the bolting heads in my little balcony garden, I've got an overload of delicate lettuces (think red leaf and buttercrunch) that need to be eaten relatively quickly, and am looking for other uses besides constant salads. I already made summer rolls and am considering blitzing a lot of it with herbs for green rice. Lettuce wraps feel like they wouldn't use enough at once, and they feel too delicate for sauteed/charred applications. Any other ideas? What's up with lettuce soup?

— AC

I (JS) have found myself in a similar predicament twice – the first go around, dutifully making use of my traditional CSA haul, I subjected myself to an onslaught of salads, a method that left me feeling righteous (problematic?) but neither especially satiated nor inspired. The second time was thanks to an early pandemic Misfits Market subscription, back when impromptu grocery shopping was taboo. I came across a footnote on a recipe for yaprak sarma (stuffed grape leaves) from Engin Akin’s Essential Turkish Cuisine for a variation using lettuce, a solution borne from the common sarma/dolma debacle of preparing too much filling. Engin calls for romaine but I used something like red oak. With sturdier lettuces and cabbage as well, you’d start by dipping the leaves in hot water to soften them, though that might not be necessary in your case. This particular filling was vegetarian – rice, onion, tomato, dried mint, fresh parsley, dill, pine nuts, currants, cinnamon, and allspice – but feel free to adapt for your taste/fridge contents. I can’t say they were the prettiest sarma I’ve ever rolled, but they got the job done. 

I would also urge you to rethink lettuce wraps, drawing inspiration from Korean ssam-style preparations – grab your preferred protein (dwaeji bulgogi is a quick, pantry-friendly fave), rice, ssamjang, and go! Friend-of-the-newsletter April turned me on to the joys of double-wrapping, tucking aromatic perilla or crispy pickled radish slices inside my lettuce leaves for a more flavorful bite. 

I haven’t tested either of these myself, but lacto-fermented lettuce intrigues, as does this chuck-everything-into-the-shredder slaw from Jenny Rosenstrach – it may feel like an absolute inferno outside, but at least you’ll stay regular!

With regards to lettuce soup, it strikes me (SB) that thinking about the question in terms of a whole world of blended-and-juiced lettuces might be useful: the same base flavors might be good in different combinations, spiked or unspiked, and up to your interpretation. On the virtuous end of the spectrum, green juice is famously some combination of juiced lettuce, apples/pears, lemon, and celery. You could throw in a little turmeric or a little tequila to make it suit your fancy. On the heartier side of things, there are a few spicy subcontinental cold soup preparations that make handy use of mung beans, yogurt, and your more common lettuces (romaine, iceberg) that this recipe leads me to believe you could attempt with any buttercrunch in your haul; this potato-lettuce soup sounds like it would be great chilled or warm. 

In the interest of maximizing helpfulness, here are a few more odds and ends for you to consider: Peruvian aji sauce is one of my (SB) favorite toppings for basically everything from rotisserie chicken to french fries and makes use of romaine and iceberg lettuces; I suspect you could play around with a few different lettuce substitutions. This cold shrimp salad in a dill cream sauce from the most recent BA is served atop an inspiring bed of gem and baby leaves. Finally, though you’re tiring of salad, we’d be remiss not to note that Samin Nosrat’s take on the Via Carota green salad is probably one of the highest stations that a lettuce leaf could aspire to (for more on Via salads, see the most recent Sifted). 

The return of Bennifer has been one of the more unexpected turns 2021 has taken, and if I’m being honest I am absolutely delighted. Do you think it’s real, or is this just a brilliant ploy by their publicists, or maybe a bit of both?

— Bennifer Forever

The answer is almost surely a little bit of both, but to us it seems like a classic case of what’s good for the goose being good for the gander. Schlubby Ben, fresh from licking his wounds, and Jen on a fierce rebound? A queen sidestepping the messiest years of a man’s life and eating her cake too?  A relatable and imperfect love story for our tragic times. Their PR teams would frankly be remiss not to maximize exposure (the number one R-U-L-E of celebrity PR, some might say). In fact, the bounty of Bennifer was so abundant that a whole lot of folks got in on the action. A never ending PR feast. We might offer a series of rhetorical questions in return: what is “real”? Is it the way they walk? The way they move? The way they talk?

To delve a little deeper: I (SB) do think these two are probably actually pretty compatible and combustible. Their love of questionable accessorizing (see: pinkie rings, newsboy caps…); the chaotic energy of being from either Boston or the Bronx; the faults in their stars… you get it.  FWIW, I (JS) have probably done worse for Dunkies. Ever the art historian, I’d also posit that maybe there was something to that seemingly manic phoenix tattoo all along, foreshadowing this return to form, a not so subtle recognition that here, with Jen, he had a home. Love is crazy!

In any case, we’re not ones to look a gossip-rich gift horse in the mouth. Here’s to you, Bennifer! May your union continue to produce content for the over-25 crowd for months to come.

PETIT FOURS

  • What are you (not) cooking this week? We’re all in on vaguely breakfast-y ice cream sundaes (granola = healthy?), salted fruit (IYKYK), and smashed cucumbers.

  • In an effort to fight fire with (free) fire, I (JS) am heaping everything with gratis Fly By Jing acquired through the embarrassingly-named, potentially scammy app FASTAF – I am not a brand ambassador but I will tell you that you can take $75 off your first order with no minimum purchase TODAY (6/30) with code FASTNGOOD.

  • For the sake of science, I (SB) am taking these record-setting temperatures as an opportunity to test the limits of natural deodorant (sorry to my friends), specifically with this roll-on number from Kosas. (Real fans know that I [JS] famously transitioned to Sam’s Natural the weekend I helped my co-editor move in to her first New Haven rental; game recognize game.)

  • Call it a throwback to summer reading challenges, but we find ourselves obsessed with books lately. I (SB) just finished Emergency Contact and am thoroughly reminded of the joys of YA. At the recommendation of friend of the newsletter Lexi, I (JS) am deep in the throes John Birdsall’s deliciously queer James Beard biography, The Man Who Ate Too Much.

Traditionalists fear not, we’re back next week with the good shit. Email us with questions, comments, concerns, and maybe even follow us on Instagram!