There is panic in British supermarkets at the moment; poor weather in Spain has led to a shortage of imported iceberg lettuces. The supermarkets have started a rationing programme: no more than three lettuces may be purchased at one time. Imagine!
Who really needs three iceberg lettuces at once? And who needs three iceberg lettuces in February, in Britain, when it is cold, gloomy and rainy? According to the completely empty lettuce trays in all of my local supermarkets, apparently quite a lot of people. The iceberg shortage has meant there has been a run on other types of lettuce and leaves, and an additional rationing programme, involving broccoli and courgettes, is making vegetable shopping quite the bore.
I have no interest in iceberg lettuce at any time of year. I actively hated all lettuce as a child and can remember arguing with my mother about it: (Her) “What do you mean you don’t like the taste? Lettuce doesn’t have a taste!” (Me) “It tastes bitter and like dirty water, I hate it!”.
I stopped hating lettuce as I got older and instead began to find it a nondescript, pointless foodstuff. But I do get that many people love a leaf based salad -especially dieters and clean-eaters, so with that in mind, I have been experimenting with non-rationed vegetables to create a credible lettuce alternative.
Although we import about 50% of our vegetables from abroad, we are capable of growing our own too -and with this in mind, I scoured the vegetable shelves until I found some Brussels sprouts, grown in nearby Lincolnshire. I love Brussels sprouts but recognize that many people do not -the sulphurous flavor (which is part of their allure) puts a lot of people off -and their small size makes their suitability as a salad ingredient less than ideal. The job ahead would be tough..
I decided to shred the sprouts (which I did by hand and it took ages: cutting out the little stalk from each tiny orb; halving the sprouts, then slicing each half into tiny half moons) and then to blanch them. I cooked the shredded leaves in boiling water for just one minute, before plunging them into a bowl of iced water to take away their raw, stiff texture and temper their bitter juices. The sprouts turned a beautiful, lime green colour – most appealing.
Preparing the sprouts this way is quite a hassle -but well worth it. Budget-conscious cooks will thank me for this one as well. If you can get your hands on an iceberg lettuce -expect to pay handsomely for the privilege. Sprouts, on the other hand, are wonderfully economical.
I teamed the sprouts with toasted hazelnuts and cubes of sweet, salty, soft gorgonzola, then doused the mixture in a lemon, mustard and honey vinaigrette. I will be honest -my expectations were not very high -but this sprout salad is actually quite delicious and a good way to avoid scraps and tugs-of-war over the last lettuce. No one wants to make a show of themselves in the vegetable aisle.
Substitute Salad (serves two)
250g Brussels sprouts
50g whole blanched hazelnuts
50g Gorgonzola (use Dolcelatte or another sweet, salty blue cheese if you prefer)
1 tbsp. honey
1 tsp Dijon mustard
3 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. lemon juice
salt and pepper
Remove the outer leaves from each sprout and cut in half from the top to the base. Cut out as much of the stalk from each sprout as you can, then discard the stalks and outer leaves. Take each sprout half and slice very thinly, so the leaves are like small half moons. Bring a pan of water to the boil and place the sprouts into the pan. Bring back to the boil and then cook for about one minute. Drain the sprouts and place into a bowl of iced water. Drain them again then dry the sprouts in a salad spinner, to remove any water. Place the dried sprouts into a serving bowl.
Cut each hazelnut in half and place into a dry frying pan over a medium heat. Shake the pan to ensure that the nuts are nicely toasted all over. Add to the sprouts.
Use the softest part of the gorgonzola, cutting it into 1 cm cubes. Add this to the sprouts and hazelnuts.
In a separate bowl, whisk the oil, lemon, honey and mustard until it forms a smooth emulsion. Season with salt and pepper and adjust with more oil or lemon to taste. Pour over the salad and mix well.