Columns

2012.05.16 Wet lettuce is OK with me

on . Posted in By The Way

By DAVID GREEN

I’m sure glad my lettuce is wet.

That’s what I told my wife the other day, just to be a dork, of course.

I had washed lettuce and assembled other ingredients for a salad and we were both concocting individual salads. I was tearing up pieces of romaine lettuce into a bowl and they were wet. And I didn’t mind.

It’s not that they were dripping with rinse water. They had stood erect in a colander for a few minutes. I shook each piece before tearing. They were moist and they were about to become wetter with a few squirts of balsamic vinegar and some oil. Wet is wet. I don’t need dry lettuce to start it off.

I knew I would be eating my dinner when Colleen was still drying and chopping, but of course I operate in ignorance. There’s so much I don’t know.

When I was growing up, I think everyone I knew ate only iceberg lettuce, something I no longer consider real lettuce. I don’t recall if lettuce was dried in my family, but I suppose iceberg is quite simple to dry with a dish towel or paper towel.

Somewhere along the line, I was introduced to red leaf, romaine and other lettuces—leaves with water-capturing crinkled surfaces.

I figured lettuce-drying was not a big deal in life, but I was wrong. I knew that salad spinners existed, but I didn’t know they were such an important topic.

I know how much space our spinner takes up in our kitchen because we don’t have good storage space for it. It’s always cluttering up the counter and somehow salad gremlins often place it on Colleen’s chair when she’s not sitting there.

Let me amend that previous statement. I know how much space our two spinners take. One of them is small and inferior, but still it lives on in our kitchen.

I decided to present the words “dry lettuce” to Mr. Google and the results were overwhelming and started off with this admonition: “It’s important to dry your lettuce very well before you dress it. Wet lettuce tastes soggy, and dressing won’t stick to it.”

How ridiculous. Wet lettuce doesn’t taste soggy. Maybe if it’s been sitting around for a few hours. Dressing won’t stick to it? Now that’s something I’ve never considered. I see the need for a taste test.

As I said earlier, this is serious business. Here’s a discussion thread from Mothering magazine: “How do you dry lettuce without paper towels or plastic salad spinner?” The writer’s problem is that she lives in a paper towel-free, plastic-free home and she can’t get her lettuce dry enough by shaking it. What? A home with no plastics? I’d like to see that. She has a wooden keyboard on her computer? Anyway, her question led to 35 responses.

Eat it wet. Lay it between layers of tea towels. Put it in a pillowcase and put it in the washing machine for a quick spin cycle. Put it in a pillowcase and swing around over your head (warning—it will send splatters in every direction). Place it on paper towels, roll it up and press it.

“I just rinse it and let it dry in the coliander.” Hmmm, must be a colander with spices inserted.

“When I was a kid, we had a metal basket on a chain, and one took it outside and spun it around.”

Here’s the response that I would have written before I met my wife: “People dry lettuce?”

Here’s the reason behind it all: “I always dry my lettuce. Otherwise the lovely little crinkly leaves can’t hold onto the olive oil. Dry lettuce allows for the subtle flavors of a bit of dressing and spices to be maintained.”

I see that a taste test is definitely in my future. I will prepare two small salads instead of one. I will be blindfolded and try my best to discern the differences.

Here’s a salad eater who responded the way I would now, in my ignorance: “I just shake off my lettuce leaves before I rip them up. They are dry enough, no pools of water in the salad bowl.”

Actually, I want a little water left in the bowl so I don’t choke. When the salad is eaten, the bowl is tilted to the mouth to drink the leftovers. Right? Doesn’t everyone do this? Without a little water, it’s too much to handle. A straight shot of undiluted balsamic will send me spinning like a basket on a chain.

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