I know. Lettuce soup sounds less than appetizing. I wasn’t so sure about it at first either. As far as I was concerned, lettuce was best served crisp in a salad. After all, what better way to appreciate the cool, cunchy ribs of romaine or the delicately sweet leaves of red oak lettuce than chilled, gently torn and drizzled with olive oil and vinegar? Surely raw was the best way to appreciate the essence of lettuce.
But then there were the exceptions, poking and tugging their questions at my assertion: What about braised Swiss chard? And grilled iceberg lettuce wedges? Or the oh-so-popular kale and spinach smoothies? When I considered the many forms in which leafy greens appear at the dining table, lettuce soup began to sound a little less odd.
These are the thoughts that scuttled through my mind from the moment the cashier at La Boulange announced that the soup of the day was Herbs and Lettuces. I’m not sure whether it was my brief internal discourse on the essence of lettuce or the cashier’s reassurance that “It’s actually really good!” that convinced me, but I decided to live the wild life and order the lettuce soup.
A few minutes later a cup of dark green soup drizzled with olive oil arrived at my table. I swirled my spoon into the soup and inspected before I ate. It was pureed, much like a cream soup, and maintained its dark color throughout. I lifted the spoon to my lips and tasted. Not bad. In fact, it actually was “actually really good!” The soup was smooth and vegetal—oh wait, I’m describing soup not wine—the soup had a bright, herby-sweet vegetable flavor. What was lacking in texture (alas those cool, crisp ribs of romaine!) was made up for by concentrated lettuce flavor. I knew I would order this soup again.
It wasn’t until I tried recreating lettuce soup at home that I realized one of its chief virtues: Lettuce soup was the perfect vehicle for using the leafy greens so often wilting in my refrigerator. (That never happens to you?) Not only that, it provided a noble end for some sad looking spinach and freezer-burned green peas. A glug of Sauvignon Blanc, a swirl of crème fraiche and plenty of salt and black pepper were all that was needed to give the soup a boost—and prove that lettuce, whatever guise it assumes, is still lettuce.
This soup can be on the table in thirty minutes, but because the flavor improves with time, consider making it in advance.
Recipe adapted from Epicurious.com.
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion
3 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 head of lettuce, washed and roughly chopped (9 cups)
2 cups spinach, washed
1 cup of fresh or frozen green peas
1 medium potato, peeled and cubed
3 cups of water
¼ cup dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc
¼ cup crème fraiche or sour cream
Make the Lettuce Soup
Head the olive oil in a large pot over low heat until shimmering. Add the onion and sauté until soft, about six minutes. Add the garlic and coriander and sauté for one minute, stirring frequently so garlic does not brown. Stir in the lettuce, spinach, peas, potato cubes and water. Increase heat to medium, bring soup to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes or until potato is tender. Remove pot from heat and blend the soup until fairly smooth with an immersion blender or in batches in a standing blender. (Be extra careful when blending hot liquids! We don’t want any accidents.) Stir in the white wine and sour cream or crème fraîche. Season with plenty of salt and pepper.