Cooks love vegetables that save them time in the kitchen: the cylindrical beet that’s simple to peel and turn into tidy, uniform disks; the onion whose root end comes to an easily sliced point, not a sunken “inny”; the winter squash that lacks a stringy interior, so hard to scrape away.
I thought I’d found the ultimate efficiency lettuce some years back in a type called Salanova, sold by a French seed house called Graines Baumaux. All the leaves were joined at the base instead of around a vertical central core, so that when you cut it, the whole head came apart, leaving you with a beautiful pile of individual frilly, red-tipped leaves. They were all the same small size, almost like baby leaf lettuce. Tasty, too, and easy to grow.
After Graines Baumaux said it would no longer ship seeds to the United States, I kept hoping I’d find this new favorite closer to home and, sure enough, it has landed. The Cook’s Garden (www.cooksgarden.com) offers a green variety similar to Salanova called E-Z Cut, with a “happy rumpled frise texture.” Jung Seed Co. (www.jungseed.com) has a multi-leaf lettuce mix with four leaf types, including a smooth red one and a frilled blond. John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds (www.kitchengardenseeds.com) offers red, green and blond varieties individually as well as in a mix. Apparently they are popular. According to Salanova.com, multi-leaf heads, as they are generically called, produce two to four times as many leaves as the standard head, with less waste, and are easier to clean and use.
The only people who might not like this kind of lettuce are those who prefer to remove a few leaves at a time, leaving the rest of the head intact for better keeping. It’s well-known that lettuce, more than most greens, soon turns brown from oxidation at the point where it is cut.
But bring up this subject among foodies and an outcry will ensue. Browning is your fault because you have cut your lettuce with a knife rather than tearing it. If you believe this theory, cutting rips open the cells rather than following natural tear lines between them. Then they’ll tell you that you used the wrong knife: metal rather than non-reactive plastic. Meanwhile, I’ll bet a breeder somewhere is puzzling out a way to design lettuce that doesn’t oxidize.
I say, just let it be lettuce. Its edges will brown no matter how you cut it or tear it. Grow lots of it, so that you can always start with a fresh head, or just eat the whole thing, so there’s nothing to store. And if you do store it, keep it cold and loosely wrapped in plastic or in moist towels, not in tightly sealed plastic bags. Lettuce mixes sold that way in stores often turn brown even before you buy them, a trait even the most efficiency-minded cook would find unsavory.
Damrosch is a freelance writer and the author of “The Garden Primer.”