Braising lettuce in coconut milk is the first thing that popped into my head when this contest theme was announced. I love Southeast Asian flavors but wanted to take advantage of the dark whispery heat of black and white peppercorns as opposed to a fiery red chili. I decided to use a technique traditional to Indian cooking, tempering, to capture the most flavor from the peppercorns and garlic. Before this contest, I'd never considered eating lettuce as a side dish, but this is a delicious way to enjoy your salad greens. Note: Even though you are braising the lettuce, since I started working for a company that designs/installs/maintains organic food gardens, it has become my habit to wash all my vegetables in a water-vinegar mixture to remove debris, bugs and kill bacteria. Whether you choose to add vinegar is up to you, though I recommend the extra water swish since you are cooking the heads with the stem end attached. —gingerroot
4 as a side
8 whole baby romaine heads OR 3-4 standard semi-head varieties, such as Mignonette or Bibb, cut in half lengthwise, through the core, leaving stem end attached
¼ c distilled vinegar to wash the lettuce (Optional)
1 cup coconut milk, from a well shaken can
2 1/2 tablespoons
fresh ginger, peeled and minced
ghee or clarified butter
whole black peppercorns
whole white peppercorns
t (generous) minced garlic (from 1 large clove)
Thoroughly wash your lettuce by first rinsing under running water, making sure to direct the stream of water into the head, between the leaves (especially if you are using whole heads of baby romaine). Since you are not completely separating the leaves, take the extra step of filling a large bowl with water (plus the distilled vinegar, if desired) and vigorously swish the lettuce heads (or halves if using standard heads). If using vinegar, let the lettuce sit in the water for two minutes. One at a time, pick out each lettuce head from the water and transfer to a colander. Rinse each head (or half) under running water and then gently squeeze before letting them drain stem end pointing up.
In a bowl or one-cup pyrex measure, combine the coconut milk, lime juice and fish sauce. Stir well to mix. Set near your stove.
Heat the oil over medium heat in a deep sauté pan or Dutch oven wide enough to fit all of the lettuce heads or halves. When hot, add ginger and cook until fragrant, stirring, about 30 seconds. Carefully add the lettuce heads or halves one at a time; if using halves, place cut side down. By the time you have nestled the last piece into the pot, go back with tongs and carefully flip each piece over. Pour coconut milk mixture over the lettuce and cover the pot. Turn down the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Put your timer on – 12 minutes for baby heads and 15 for standard halves.
When half of your time is remaining, use tongs to flip the pieces. Re-cover and let simmer for the remaining cooking time. Using tongs, transfer cooked lettuce pieces to a wide serving bowl and spoon some of the coconut milk and ginger over the pieces.
Use a mortar and pestle to crush your peppercorns. Heat ghee in a small skillet over medium high heat until it shimmers. Add peppercorns (they should sizzle) and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, being careful not to let mixture burn, and turning down heat if necessary.
Carefully pour garlic pepper mixture evenly over lettuce pieces in the serving bowl. Serve and enjoy.
My most vivid childhood memories have to do with family and food. As a kid, I had the good fortune of having a mom who always encouraged trying new things, and two grandmothers who invited me into their kitchens at a young age. I enjoy cooking for the joy it brings me - sharing food with loved ones - and as a stress release. I turn to it equally during good times and bad. Now that I have two young children, I try to be conscientious about what we cook and eat. Right about the time I joined food52, I planted my first raised bed garden and joined a CSA; between the two I try to cook as sustainably and organically as I can. Although I'm usually cooking alone, my children are my favorite kitchen companions and I love cooking with them. I hope when they are grown they will look back fondly at our time spent in the kitchen, as they teach their loved ones about food-love.
Best of all, after years on the mainland for college and graduate school, I get to eat and cook and raise my children in my hometown of Honolulu, HI. When I'm not cooking, I am helping others grow their own organic food or teaching schoolchildren about art.