The One-Pot Meal Lifted By an Unexpected (& Underestimated!) Green

January 17, 2018

In the week following Thanksgiving, when I didn’t much feel like cooking, I asked my blog readers what they cooked, if anything, when they didn’t feel like cooking. Shortly thereafter, I found myself rereading Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal, specifically Chapter 10, “How to Make Peace,” in which lies one reader’s go-to recipe when she's feeling uninspired: lettuce and rice soup.

Lettuce and rice soup? Really? The reader who led me to the recipe included in her comment some much-needed encouraging words: “It sounds so plain,” she said, but “the few ingredients together taste really amazing.”

See what just a few ingredients can do in this soup. Photo by Alexandra Stafford

This, I soon learned, is how you make lettuce and rice soup: Sauté onions in a couple tablespoons of butter, add Arborio rice, parsley, and stock, simmer for 45 minutes, stir in lettuce—yes, chopped Romaine lettuce—serve with a drizzle of olive oil and fresh cracked pepper.

Pre-lettuce, the soup is looking pretty fly. Photo by Alexandra Stafford

It sounded so lean, too thrifty to be good. But I gave it a go, because one: Tamar Adler; two: If this is what someone cooks when she doesn’t feel like cooking, there has to be something to it. And three: Genius stir-fried lettuce, which opened my eyes to lettuce’s versatility, its ability to be served warm, slicked in sauce.

Lettuce deserves a little warmth from time to time. Photo by Alexandra Stafford

I made the soup first with a quart of chicken stock and a near equal amount of water. After 45 minutes of simmering, the soup thickened considerably, the starch from the rice lending a slight creaminess. The addition of finely chopped Romaine lettuce just before serving offered a sweetness and crunch, the softer leaves melting into the broth. My husband and I ate it for dinner two nights in a row, and then I made it again with homemade vegetable stock, which worked just as well.

An unexpectedly addictive meal. Photo by Alexandra Stafford

The flavors of this soup are simple and pure—it’s comfort in a bowl, everything I want to be eating right now, and a good recipe to know whether you feel like cooking or not.

A Few Tips

Because the soup has so few ingredients, a good stock, meat or vegetarian, is key. Homemade, of course, is best. When making a vegetarian stock, I find the addition of leeks makes for an especially flavorful stock, so if you’re heading to the store, pick up some leeks.

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Curiosity led me to open Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, where I found a similar recipe for spinach or escarole soup with rice. Spinach and escarole (along with other greens, I imagine) will lend a different flavor to the soup, but will work well if that’s what you have on hand or prefer (though I highly encourage you to give Romaine a go). Marcella finishes her soup with Parmesan, which would be welcomed in Tamar’s soup as well, and offers a variation that replaces the onions with garlic, which she says imparts an earthier flavor.

What are your thoughts on warming lettuce? Let us know in the comments!

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I write the blog alexandra's kitchen, a place for mostly simple, sometimes fussy, and always seasonal recipes. My cookbook, Bread Toast Crumbs is available everywhere books are sold.