Lettuce soup sounds like a terrible idea… until you taste it. Then it will seem brilliant, and the person who told you about it a culinary genius. This will last right up until you look at a recipe and realize that the deliciousness of lettuce soup has nothing to do with lettuce and everything to do with high quality stock and large quantities of heavy cream.
Here’s a secret: everything tastes good when you blend it into a rich, flavorful soup base. You could whirl in a handful of your front lawn and have people ooohing and aaahing over it. No, my friends, lettuce soup is not about the hitherto unknown depths of flavor hidden in your salad bin. And it’s certainly not a diet food.
Lettuce soup is about one thing only: getting rid of extra lettuce.
I have extra lettuce, so I decided to give this lettuce soup thing a try. (On a related side note, if you decide not to bother with carefully placing your lettuce seeds 3″ apart and just sprinkle them onto the soil, you must remember to go back and thin out the sprouts.)
I left out the cream — not because I have anything against copious amounts of delicious, delicious butterfat, but because I’m lactose intolerant. I made up for this by using especially delicious stock, made through a careful ingredient selection process that I like to call “cleaning out the fridge and freezer.” A frozen chicken carcass, the dried-out heel from a hunk of parmesan cheese, and assorted aromatic peels and stems. Simmered for a few hours with some salt and pepper, then strained, and I had a nice, rich, delicious soup base.
Unfortunately, I went ahead and added a bunch of lettuce.
First big issue with lettuce soup: the lettuce does not actually “melt away to silky smoothness,” as promised in many recipes. It melts, yes, but into slimy petals tethered to stringy veins. They are not appealing if left whole. You need to puree it, and you need to use a real blender. I know, because I tried to use my immersion blender, and all the strings just wrapped around the blades, making a slimy knot without actually pureeing anything.
Second issue: even once you get it pureed to a lovely smooth verdant creamy soup, there’s still not a lot of substance to it. It’s not as hearty as bisque or butternut squash soup. Again, cream would have thickened it somewhat, but even still, you’re probably going to want to add something to it. Dumplings, maybe, or potatoes, or a bunch of fresh peas.
Of course, you can’t add those until after you put the lettuce through the blender. But if you add raw potatoes or whatever to the blended soup, then by the time your additions are cooked through, the puréed lettuce has gotten overcooked. Instead of bright lovely green, it’s a kind of olive drab. And it still just tastes like broth with a faint hint of wilty lettuce flavor.
No, my friends, I have to give lettuce soup a thumbs-down. It’s too much trouble, too much mess, and the end result would have been better without the lettuce.
If you have too much lettuce and really want to cook it, try this instead: in a large frying pan, heat up a glug of olive oil, a smashed clove of garlic, and an anchovy fillet or two, and stir until the anchovies are broken up. (Don’t let the garlic burn.) Add your washed lettuce and toss it around in the hot pan for thirty seconds or so, until it’s just wilted. If you like, give it a squeeze of lemon juice, and serve it right away.