Several weeks ago at a restaurant, I ordered what seemed like a simple salad and was utterly charmed by its presentation. I had never seen it before: Entire halved heads of Little Gem lettuce presented like boats on the plate and piled so neatly with thick, creamy dressing and chopped vegetables that I was tempted to pick them up and eat them out of hand.
A week or so later, a similar plate of tidy lettuce boats came to my table at another restaurant. Two encounters might not qualify as a trend, but I’d put my money on their star rising. Either way, I can’t lose because popular or not, they are a deliciously different way to eat fresh vegetables – uncomplicated, crisp and creamy – like a modern reboot of an iceberg wedge salad.
For this version, you can use either Little Gem lettuce or large heads of endive – both have the firm, tightly packed leaves that make the presentation work. Each head is halved lengthwise, then made to stand on its uncut side with a little slice into it, if needed. The boats are smeared generously with a creamy yogurt-based lemon-and-feta-laced dressing, then showered simply and brightly with chopped radishes, scallion and lemon zest.
If you wanted to go a step further, dill, parsley or mint would be a nice addition. There are so many ways you could run with the concept, depending on the season and what you have on hand, changing the dressing to blue cheese or ranch, etc. For summer, I am envisioning a topping of chopped tomato, cucumber and basil. With all the possibilities, the lettuce boat salad seems destined to go viral.
Gem Lettuce Boats With Feta, Radish and Scallion
4 heads Little Gem lettuce (1 pound total) or 4 large heads endive (1½ pounds total)
1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt (low-fat or whole)
1/3 cup (1½ ounces) crumbled feta cheese
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 medium radishes, finely diced
2 medium scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced on the bias
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Trim any bruised outer leaves off the lettuce or endive, and trim the very bottom of the core. Halve each head of lettuce or endive lengthwise. Cut a little wedge off the back of each half, if needed, so it sits flat with the cut side up.
In a small bowl, stir together the yogurt, feta, mayonnaise and lemon juice. Spread one heaping tablespoon of the yogurt-feta mixture onto each lettuce or endive half. Then top each with a quarter of each of the radishes and scallions, a sprinkle of lemon zest and a twist of the pepper mill and serve.
Yield: 4 servings
Ellie Krieger is cookbook author and registered nutritionist.
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