The lettuce and the lamb

Posted on 2 min read

Even those of us who can’t tell the difference between most leafy greens will love Valerianella locusta. It is known under many names, corn salad and lamb’s lettuce being among the most popular ones, but it’s also called fetticus, field salad and nut lettuce. The latter is not to be wondered at – corn salad has a very bright and crisp nutty flavour (no wonder it’s called Nüsslisalat in Switzerland) that makes it a great accompaniment to scrambled eggs and bacon for breakfast or a lovely pair to crumbly goat cheese. But why is it called “corn” you might wonder? It’s not yellow, it’s not fruit-bearing. The reason for this is that, what we today know as salad, was treated as a weed in cornfields back then, hence the name. And what’s with lamb’s lettuce? Such an unusual term supposedly comes from the salad’s resemblance to the size and shape of a lamb’s tongue. We, frankly, never ate lambs’ tongues but, as for lamb’s lettuce, it has a very distinctive, tangy flavour.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t last long, leaves wilt rather quickly and turn into mush, so treat this salad with care: remove the small roots with a paring knife, wash under cold running water, and run through a salad spinner to get rid of excess water. Corn salad is better used raw, it doesn’t fare well when cooked. Like all greens, the cells burst from heat and what was once a generous bouquet becomes green slush in a matter of seconds. But it doesn’t mean it cannot be used in cooking. Chop it and use in soups, steam it and fold into omelettes or rice dishes. It will lose its colour, of course, but not the flavour.

Another great idea is to mix different leafy greens in one dish to get the maximum burst of variation. Mix corn salad with arugula and watercress to create an airy base for the future salad. Brown 2 Tbsp of almonds and walnuts in a pan over low heat until golden. Chop 1 cup of dried apricots and cranberries. Toss it all together, dress with a simple vinaigrette made from 2 Tbsp flavourful oil (macadamia, hazelnut, pistachio will do just fine), 1 Tbsp cider vinegar and 1 tsp honey and season with salt and pepper.

Another great recipe is even easier. Take 3-4 small cucumbers – quarter them lengthwise and then into medium-sized chunks, peel and core 1 apple, cut in half and then into the same size dice as the cucumbers. Mix with lamb’s lettuce and add some herbs of your choice: coriander, celery leaves, mint, sage. Then prepare 20 g / 1 heaping Tbsp of yoghurt, crush 1 clove of garlic and finely grate 2 cm / ½ inch of ginger, bring it all together, season with salt and freshly ground pepper and pour onto your greens. A crunchy, vibrant, green salad with lamb’s lettuce at your service.

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