One of the reasons I love having my allotment is that it gives me a chance to try growing and eating lesser known vegetables. The kind of veg that makes non-growers give you a confused look and ask “What is that?” Each year, I do my best to grow at least one variety of fruit or veg that I haven’t grown or eaten before.
As a child, I was never fond of the usual vegetables that other children enjoyed. I would turn my nose up at peas, carrots would end up cleverly concealed on a napkin under my “cleared” plate and don’t even get me started on sweetcorn (which I still hate to this day!) My Mother almost gave up on me, until she started introducing less kid-friendly vegetables to my diet. Savoy cabbage quickly became my favourite vegetable, closely followed by spinach and kale. As I grew older, I realised that my palate was more drawn towards more unusual tastes and textures, such as bean sprouts or water chestnuts.
This realisation has lead to a love of trying different vegetables, always trying to find another unique taste to add to my (thankfully now larger) list of approved veg! This year, I decided to try and grow Celtuce.
Celtuce is like a cross between celery and lettuce and it is predominantly grown for the thick stem that it produces. The leaves are edible and can be eaten like normal lettuce, however they are extremely bitter. For this reason it is best to pick the leaves when they are very young or briefly stir fry them before eating, as this helps take a little of the bitterness away.
I am not going to focus too much on the actual growing, harvesting or preparation of celtuce, as I have already created a guide on this in the form of a video, which I have uploaded to my Youtube channel. If you would like to learn more about growing or harvesting celtuce then please do take a look at my video on it, which can be found by clicking this link:
What I am going to focus on in this post is how to cook both celtuce stems and the leaves to create a really quick and easy side dish or light meal. This dish only takes around 20 minutes to prepare and 15 minutes of that is poaching time, so it really can be whipped up in next to no time – perfect for when you are in a hurry or just can’t be bothered to create anything too complicated!
Poached & quick fried celtuce stems with wilted leaves
To begin with, your celtuce stem should be carefully pealed so that you only have the tender, green inner stem and none of the tough, white outer layers. Take the stem and cut it in half, so that each piece measures about 3 – 4″ in length.
Bring a pan of water to the boil and season with a little salt. Once the water is boiling, add the celtuce stems to the pan. Poach the celtuce stems for 10-15 minutes. They need to be tender but not overcooked. Take care not too cook for too long as if they are overcooked they will go mushy and will not fry well.
Once the stems have been poached, take a frying pan and melt some butter over a medium heat. Add the poached stems to the pan and fry in the butter for a further 3 – 4 minutes, turning regularly and basting with the butter. The stems should take on a golden brown colour. Once the stems are golden brown, remove them from the pan and keep warm.
Now, add the celtuce leaves to the pan. They will shrink down in a similar way to spinach, so it is always best to start with more than you think you will need! Fry the leaves until they wilt and become a deep green colour, this should only take a minute or two. Taste and season with a little salt if required.
Take the wilted leaves and place them on a warmed plate. You can then take the stems and place them on top of the leaves. If you wish, you can squeeze a little lemon juice over the top of the celtuce as this adds a really nice extra flavour.
This quick and easy recipe would be perfect as a starter or as a side dish to a main meal. It takes hardly any time to prepare and cook and is a tasty alternative to other more “usual” vegetable dishes. The celtuce stems have a silky, buttery texture to them and their unique flavour is perfectly enhanced by this simple recipe. It is certainly a dish that I will be making again and perhaps even showing off to my friends!