MY WINTER cabbages may look like lace doilies, but my summer lettuces are a glorious embarrassment; so I’ve had to resort to new Lettuce soup recipes, ideal for the delicious greenery that doesn’t look as picturesque as the seed packet promised. Lettuce makes a good soup, although it needs something either to enhance its delicate, buttery freshness or add a kick.
The classic base is chicken stock, but that won’t please vegetarians or vegans. Butter is a good choice for a vegetarian soup, and the delicate sweetness of coconut oil works well for vegans. I like to cook the base vegetables in the stock and add the lettuce leaves just before blending, for just enough time to wilt and heat up. That usually keeps the green colour fresh, too, but adding raw coriander, parsley, or watercress leaves will add another stratum of viridian freshness.
The basic strategy is to fry an onion and some garlic in oil until it is tender. Use either butter, coconut oil, or a good vegetable oil. Add a pint of good, home-made vegetable stock, or chicken stock, and simmer the vegetables until tender: about 15-20 minutes. (If you like to put in a potato as a thickener, chop it into small dice and add it too.) Then add about two lettuces, and bring them back to a simmer before liquidising, testing the seasoning, and serving.
If I’m cooking for people with a sweet tooth, a cup or two of peas gives a sweet, rich flavour and a thicker texture. If I’m cooking for children, I like to mix the stock with some milk and sharpen the flavour with a little lemon juice. If I’m feeling extravagant, I will try thickening the liquidised soup with a custard mixture of egg yolk and cream. This manoeuvre needs a bit of attention, to bring the soup and custard to a happy marriage over a low heat. Don’t let it boil.
For myself, I make a basic lettuce soup and add a bunch of raw, well-washed watercress and a teaspoon of spirulina just before liquidising.
A spicier, vegan version uses a generous amount of oil (if coconut oil, about 2-3 dessertspoons) and 2 large onions. Fry the onions, finely chopped, and then add 2-3 cloves of garlic, and a large carrot, finely grated. Add ½ teaspoon each of ground coriander and cardamom seeds, and a pinch of ground cloves, and salt and fresh ground black pepper. When the spices are warmed, add 1 or 2 pints of vegetable stock, and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Finally, add 2 or 3 lettuces, bring up to a simmer again, liquidise, check the seasoning, and serve with a spoonful of Chermoula, a marinade for fish or meat. You can make it to your own taste. The main ingredients are lemon, garlic, and oil, to which I add a different range of herbs and spices each time. It’s best eaten fresh. Try putting in a blender:
1 cup olive oil
2 large cloves of garlic
zest and juice of a well-scrubbed lemon
To this add any of the following: 1 red or yellow pepper, chopped; a handful of parsley, mint, and/or coriander; cumin; salt; pepper; a pinch of smoked paprika.