When Good Food Goes Bad
I just started to clean out my fridge, and had to suppress a shudder at some of the things that I found towards the back. Food that hadn’t already grown two legs and left my kitchen on its own volition was snarling menacingly from the “crisper,” which in this case was holding a bin of limp celery and what was once probably kale.
The celery, I can turn into broth, along with some flaccid carrots and a well-past-prime onion. But I’m usually stumped on the lettuce; sagging lettuce does not a good salad make. And this is just your basic loose leaf lettuce, too. Unlike iceberg (“The lettuce that never dies”), this kind of lettuce has a shelf life of something like 30 seconds.
There’s no way I was going to finish the lettuce in a salad. Even drenched in dressing (which, let’s be honest, would probably wilt the lettuce to the same degree that it was already wilting), I just couldn’t stand the thought of knowing that this lettuce was already flopping about uselessly before I dressed it. But I can't throw it out — that goes against everything I've ever been taught in life! The starving kids in Africa! And I don't have room for a compost bin, so...
That’s when I remembered a particular delicacy that I had enjoyed when I used to live in China — braised lettuce. At the time, I remember thinking that the Chinese cooks might be off their rockers — you don’t cook lettuce, right? Au contraire! Or as they say in Chinese, “That’s what you think, whitey.” But once I tasted the flash-cooked, tenderly seasoned, garlicky leaves, I knew that I would never again think ill of ANY cooked greens in the Middle Kingdom.
So I gave it a whirl in my own kitchen, and it turned out pretty well. AND I was able to use up two heads of lettuce that otherwise would have found their end in the dumpster.
- Splash of sesame oil
- 2–3 cloves of chopped garlic
- 3 T light soy sauce
- Splash of water
- 1 T corn starch
- Sad-looking-but-not-moldy loose leaf lettuce (you can use iceberg, romaine, or redleaf as well)
- Sweat the garlic in a splash of sesame oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. While the garlic is sweating, add a small amount of cornstarch (maybe a tablespoon) to a bowl or cup, and mix it with a small amount of COLD water until it dissolves.
- Add some soy sauce to the pan. The amount you will need varies on the type of soy sauce used — I add about three tablespoons, but I have very light soy sauce. Experiment.
- Add a bit of water to the pan and mix so that the garlic, soy sauce, and water are all one happy broth. Throw the lettuce in and cover for 30 seconds to one minute. Oddly enough, my lettuce refuses to wilt until I take the cover off of my pan again, then it collapses.
- Push the lettuce to one side of the pan, and slowly pour the cornstarch and water into the broth, stirring the whole time. Then mix the lettuce into the thickened broth, which is now, technically, a sauce.
- Remove from heat and serve with rice, noodles, or leftover pizza.
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