Make it Crisp

There are very few things as terrible as limp lettuce. Here are a few ways to keep it fresh and a recipe to satiate your taste buds.

For its beautiful storyline, powerful characters and acting that touches the soul, Scent Of A Woman is easily one of my all-time favourites. The commanding and compelling dialogues have had such an impact on me that I often find myself just rattling off random quotes from the film. But the one that I love and use the most is best described in the scene below.

Walking into the hotel, the blind Col. Frank Slade senses a dispassionate salute given to him by a doorman. Forever the sharp man that he is, it riles him no end to encounter a sloppy display of professionalism. He walks in, correcting the doorman in his characteristic irascible reprimand, “Make it crisp!”, leaving the doorman absolutely gobsmacked.

I am no colonel, leave alone Frank Slade or Al Pacino, but you can bet yourself a salad that you’ll hear me utter these words if I find limp lettuce in mine, for there’s no bigger turnoff than finding lettuce that looks like it has been steamrolled, beaten and overdressed into damp submission by a dispassionate cook who couldn’t care if it looks like a fresh leaf or boiled to death vermicelli!

A good salad could well be the crisp salute to a great meal but for that one needs to treat the ingredients with dignity and respect, and most of all the delicate lettuce.

Summer is almost upon us and it marks the end of wintry pleasures and beautiful salads but all that is set to change as new players enter the market promising us a year-long supply of fresh farmed lettuce right in Hyderabad, and beyond.

Leading this culinary change is Sachin Darbarwar, a good friend and a great farmer. On his farm outside Hyderabad, he uses hydroponic technology to grow wonderful salad leaves, crisp, luscious and full of all lettucy goodness. From lollo rosso, verde to romaine, butterheads, icebergs and corals and a whole range of micro greens and baby vegetables. It’s about time that we got ready to “make it crisp”.

— The writer is the Executive Chef The Park, Hyderabad

Lettuce, orange, black olives and feta salad

Ingredients (for two plates)
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp lime juice
Salt and pepper to season
16 leaves lettuce-butterhead
16 leaves lettuce-coral
Segments from 2 oranges
12 black olives
50 gm feta cheese, cut into small cubes
4 tsp pumpkin seeds, mildly toasted
4 tsp flax seeds, mildly toasted


First up, make the vinaigrette by lightly whisking together the oil and the lime juice and season with the salt and pepper. Clean the lettuce by washing each leaf carefully in a bowl of cold water. Make sure you get all the soil off. Spin the leaves in a salad spinner to get the excess water off. Keep refrigerated in a box lined with kitchen towel or paper if using later otherwise just keep on a clean kitchen towel. Cut the oranges into segments. Divide and arrange the lettuce leaves in two plates.

Arrange the orange segments, olives and cubed feta over it. Sprinkle over the toasted pumpkin and flax seeds. Give the vinaigrette a light whisk and drizzle it over the salad just before serving it.

Handle lettuce leaves, with care...

By virtue of its delicate nature, lettuce needs to be handled and stored well.
While buying lettuce ensure that the entire head of lettuce is unblemished and does not have black veins caused by the bruising of the leaves. Buying bruised lettuce will lead to a lot of wastage as those leaves would have to be discarded. Buy a lettuce head that has blossomed.

Also, if the lettuce has grown vertically, its better to avoid. Keep the lettuce in a cool place away from direct drafts of air. When ready to use, turn the head upside down and using a sharp knife make a cut all around the central stalk. This will easily dislodge all the leaves, leaving the core leaves attached to the stalk. These are the young and tender leaves that form the “lettuce heart”. Use the “heart” whole in a salad.

Wash the leaves in a deep bowl of chilled cold water, ensuring that all the mud and grit is washed away from each leaf. If using a salad spinner, gently give the leaves a spin to take away excess water. If using immediately, place the leaves on a clean kitchen towel. If you intend to use it later, line a plastic box with a clean kitchen towel and loosely and gently fill with the leaves. Cover with a tight lid and store in the fridge. The leaves can stay for upto four days.

Cos or romaine lettuce leaves are hardy and can handle being tossed in a dressing several times, however, if using other lettuce, toss or dress just before serving. This will ensure that they remain fresh and crisp.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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