One of the hottest trends in the produce world is fresh, local and alive!
Living lettuce – a bouquet of one or more salad varieties with roots attached – is flourishing in supermarkets large and small, wrapped in a clear plastic sleeve or encased in a clamshell.
Though the concept isn’t new, advances in technology have enticed more Ontario greenhouses to grow salad greens year-round under pristine conditions.
Packaging lettuce with the roots on allow the greens to live on the counter for days or even weeks with regular watering while you pluck off a leaf or two for a sandwich or toss a salad for one.
“People call to say they’ve had our Naked Leaf living butter lettuce on the counter for 10 days and it’s still good,” says Emily Murracas, marketing director at Mucci Farms in Kingsville, best known for its greenhouse tomatoes and cucumbers.
Instead of using the traditional greenhouse hydroponic system in raised troughs, Mucci seeds its Naked Leaf lettuce in individual plastic cups filled with peat moss then floats the cups in a high-tech pond that stretches for acres. As their roots trail in the nutrient-rich water, the greens are also nourished by natural light on sunny days supplemented by purple LED light.
Within a few weeks, the pots of baby leaves grow into gorgeous full heads of butter (aka Boston) lettuce or a mix of leafy greens.
Another major greenhouse grower, Leamington-based Pure Hothouse Foods Inc., is adding baby romaine to its living lettuce lineup this spring under the Pure Flavor label.
Marketing director Sarah Pau says each head of lettuce grows in a cube of compostable coconut husks which only need rehydrating with water every five days.
“Living lettuce is perfect for a single person who can’t get through a head of lettuce in a week and hates to waste food,” says Pau, a thought seconded by many of my friends.
In addition to its potted plants, flower grower Sunrise Greenhouses in Niagara is now growing hydroponic Boston and green oak leaf lettuce in cubes of sponge-like oasis.
“People go crazy for it,” says salesperson Niki Kowalski. “To keep it fresh up to two weeks just put it in a glass of water.”
Greenbelt Microgreens is growing a handsome, organically-certified trio of lettuces in real soil in its newly-refitted Woodhill greenhouse near Hamilton.
“With 80% of Canada’s greens being imported, retailers are desperate for something local and organic year-round,” says vice president Michael Curry.
Curry says Greenbelt’s microgreens and living lettuce are popular among young families shopping for organic, and a lot of millennials like to have something living in their kitchen that’s fun to harvest.
Buy & Store
· Whether you prefer sturdy, crunchy green romaine, beloved in Caesar salad, delicate red or green leaf lettuce with scalloped edges, spiky, bitter frisée or beautiful Boston or butter lettuce with deep cupped leaves, salad greens are available year-round.
· Living lettuce needs water to keep it alive. Keep it on the counter or in the fridge in its original sleeve or container, which acts like a mini greenhouse to keep the leaves fresh and moist.
· Avoid any lettuce with leaves turning brown.
· Buying a whole head of lettuce is cheaper than pre-packaged leaves and can be just as convenient with a little work. Trim, wash and dry the whole head, tear into bite-sized pieces and store in a zipped bag with a half paper towel to wick away moisture.
· Use cut lettuce within a few days.
- Never chop lettuce leaves with a knife or you’ll bruise them! Instead, tear leaves into bite-size pieces with your hands.
Chicken Lettuce Wraps
Mucci’s Naked Leaf living lettuce is the base for these healthy wraps, but you could also use a regular head of Boston lettuce. Leftover or store-bought BBQ chicken makes them quick and easy, and you can buy the tzatziki or make your own.
8 Naked Leaf or Boston lettuce leaves
1½ cups shredded cooked chicken
1 unpeeled apple, cut in matchsticks or thin slices
⅔ cup shredded or grated Cheddar cheese
½ cup tzatziki sauce*
In a medium bowl, combine chicken, apple, cheese and ¼ cup (60 mL) tzatziki. Mix to coat evenly.
Place lettuce leaves on a serving platter and fill each leaf with about ¼ cup (60 mL) filling.
Roll up and secure each wrap with a toothpick. Serve immediately with remaining tzatziki sauce. Makes 8 wraps.
*To make your own tzatziki sauce, mix 1 cup (250 mL) plain Greek yogurt with 1 small minced garlic clove, 1 finely chopped mini cucumber and salt and pepper to taste.