Celtuce or Stem Lettuce
Celtuce goes by many different names including Stem Lettuce, Chinese Lettuce, and Asparagus Lettuce. Celtuce (Lactuca sativa var. augustana, angustata, or asparagine) is the most unique of the five lettuce varieties. Originating in the Mediterranean, like most lettuces, it then arrived in China around 600 A.D., making its way to the western world in the 19th century.
Not Like the Others
What makes Celtuce so unique is that, unlike the other lettuces we covered previously, it can be consumed after it has bolted with no effect on flavor. Plus, it doesn’t look like your typical lettuces, but instead more like a cross between lettuce and celery. And yes, both the stem and leaves can be eaten. The stem, or core, can be eaten raw, however cooking it brings out more of its nutty (sometimes almost smoky) flavor, and it retains its crisp texture. Some insist the leaves are bitter, but I find they can highlight a cooked dish quite well, and few of them can brighten any garden salad. Plus, I enjoy the zero waste notion when using the whole plant.
Like the Others
The planting of celtuce is indeed like that of other lettuces and most other cool weather crops and needs to be done in early spring or in late summer to early fall for a later fall crop. It’s best to sow seeds in partial shade about ¼ inch deep and thin to 2” apart. Plants can also be thinned later to about 10” apart once the celtuce has grown large enough to be used as leaf lettuce. The thinned plants can be transplanted to elsewhere in your garden.
As with any lettuce, giving it enough water is critical to allow for proper growth and to prevent disease. When watering, do so with consistent, light waterings that keep the soil moist down to about 1 foot, but don’t allow it to become waterlogged. It’s best to water your plants using drip irrigation and not overhead watering. Allowing your celtuce to keep its leaves dry and feet consistently moist (but not drowning), along with proper ventilation, can help ward off tip burn, rots, mildews, and even insect infestations. Also keeping your garden neat and tidy and planting flowers, such as marigolds, to reduce pests, can help keep your celtuce and the rest of your garden healthy and happy.
When the growing season ends there is no harm in letting your celtuce flower. Doing so will allow it to drop seeds that can become next season’s celtuce crop. However, rotation can help reduce disease and pest problems. So do what is best for your garden and keep your celtuce in tiptop shape.
Reaping What You Sow
As you go to harvest celtuce be aware that the larger you allow the stems to grow, the more likely they will be bitter and woody. It’s best to harvest stems at no larger than 1” in diameter. The leaves can be picked at any time, but those in the earlier part of the growing season tend to be less bitter. Once you remove the leaves from the stems, store them separately in the refrigerator, and away from any apples, pears or bananas. These fruits release ethylene gas, which is a natural ripening agent and will lead to a much quicker deterioration of your celtuce, or any lettuce.
In a serving (100 grams) of celtuce, you can expect to find 18 calories, 0 grams of fat, 1 gram of protein, and 4 grams of carbohydrates (2 grams of which is dietary fiber). Celtuce is an excellent source of Vitamins A and C, and the mineral manganese. It is also a good source of Vitamin B-9 (Folate) and offers all the other B’s (except B-12), as well as the minerals calcium, copper, non-heme iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, and zinc.
To boost your nutritional profile with some much needed Vitamin A, C, and B-9, you can add celtuce to your next dinner. As mentioned before you can eat this lovely vegetable raw and toss into your favorite salad. However, one of my favorite dishes to create with this unique lettuce is the following.
Beurre Noisette Celtuce
4 whole stalks of celtuce, leaves attached
6 tablespoons high-quality unsalted butter
2 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
Salt to taste
Enough beef, chicken, or vegetable stock to just cover the celtuce (approximately 6 cups)
Remove and save leaves from the celtuce
Using a vegetable peeler, peel the celtuce stems
After the initial peeling, a layer of light colored stem will remain. Peel the celtuce again to remove this layer. This layer is quite stringy and tough.
Continue to peel the celtuce until only the light green, translucent core remains
Cut the core into 2-inch pieces
Over medium to high heat, heat stock in a saucepan large enough to hold the celtuce core pieces and the stock
Add celtuce core pieces and simmer until tender when pierced (~10 minutes). Don’t overcook the celtuce, as it will fall apart
Remove the celtuce core pieces from the stock and pat dry
Melt butter over low to medium heat in a separate sauté pan. It’s best to use a pan with a light-colored bottom in order to note the color change of the butter.
Swirl pan occasionally to ensure butter is cooking evenly. As the butter melts, it will begin to foam and the color will evolve from the buttery yellow to a golden-tan to its final color of hazelnut brown.
Once you smell a slightly nutty aroma, add the celtuce core pieces and sauté.
Turning the pieces occasionally, cook until lightly browned on each side
Remove the celtuce core pieces from the pan and keep warm
Add the celtuce leaves to the pan and sauté until just wilted
Place the leaves on the plate, atop the celtuce core pieces
Add the lemon to remaining butter in the pan
Swirl to warm through
Drizzle the lemon butter over the celtuce pieces and leaves
Salt to taste
Serve immediately while it’s still warm
Make this dish at home, impress your family and friends, and enjoy a unique and warming dish inspired by your garden!
Everything has its season….
Well, there you have it my friends, the last of the lettuce articles. I hope you enjoyed the trip down lettuce lane and maybe found some new varieties of lettuce to enjoy and new recipes to create. I encourage you in your next gardening adventure to incorporate, one, if not all, of these wonderful lettuce varieties. So, whether you’re a fan of the Crisphead, Butterhead, Romaine, Loose-leaf, or the Celtuce, enjoy your lettuce, your garden, and time spent in the kitchen. Grow on my friends, and stay healthy and happy!
Reader, L. December 18, 2003. University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, Maricopa County Journal. A Bountiful Garden. Lettuce for the Cool Season. https://cals.arizona.edu/maricopa/garden/html/pubs/1203/landscaping.html
United States Department of Agriculture. May, 2016. United States Department of Agriculture. Agricultural Research Service. National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28. Basic Report: 11145, Celtuce, raw. https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/2916?fgcd=&manu=&lfacet=&format=&count=&max=50&offset=&sort=default&order=asc&qlookup=celtuce&ds=&qt=&qp=&qa=&qn=&q=&ing=