By Heidi Lewis
Romaine lettuce is stand-up lettuce. It is characterized by its narrow, crisp leaves of course texture and distinctive thick ribs. Romaine is sometimes referred to as “Cos Salad” by Queen’s English speakers, as it’s thought to have originated from Kos Island in the Aegean Sea. It makes sense that the bright sun and sandstone landscape would produce such an upright lettuce.
Romaine is a member of the daisy family (Asteraceae). Along with chicory, endive, and dandelion, it has a telltale milky substance called lactucarium that you find when breaking its white stems. This substance has opiate attributes that were prized by ancient Romans and can be made into tinctures with a somnolent effect. It can only be procured in any useful quantity or strength from wild lettuces (Lactuca virosa) or the stems of the old lettuce plants that have bolted and are near the seed.
The heart of romaine is the treasured part. The white interior spines coarsely chopped along with shreds of the dark green leaf can stand up to many distinctive dressings. For the classic Caesar salad, the leaves are left whole. Restaurateur Caesar Cardini is credited with inventing the Caesar salad in Tijuana in the mid-1920s, but some food historians contend that Chicago-based cook Giacomo Junia came up with it first in 1903. Regardless, it was Cardini who gave the table-side salad-tossing show that made Caesar the salad to have at Cafe Trocadero in Hollywood and other hip hot spots then and since.
- Split leaves apart under running water and blot dry.
- Chop (or not) and dress with a hearty dressing. (Can be grilled.)
Wrap in a moist paper towel, place in a plastic bag in the crisper section of the fridge, and use within three days.