Could cos, rocket, buttercrunch or coral replace the over-priced iceberg?
Think lettuce, and you probably think of iceberg – the crisp, sweet bulb-like variety is very versatile and one of New Zealand’s most ubiquitous lettuces.
Right now, however, the summer salad staple is egregiously expensivethe result of an unseasonably wet summer. Today, a head of iceberg could set you back as much as $6.49 at our major supermarket chains.
But while poor weather has affected almost all crops, there are still much more affordable lettuces out there. Richard Burke, CEO of major vegetable wholesaler LeaderBrand, which has a specialization in bagged salad leaves, picked a few of his favorites that are still coming in at under $4.
Whether the green or red leaf variety, coral lettuce has a mild buttery flavor and ruffled leaves with a crisp texture that works well in salads, although with leaves that come together off a stem (rather than a central head) it’s also handy to have in the fridge for making sandwiches or burgers.
Today’s best price: $3.75 for a twin pack (one of each color), Countdown
Burke waxes eloquent about this loose-headed variety, calling its leaves “succulent” and describing the texture as “sweet” and “delicate buttery”.
The distinctive heart-shaped leaves are perfect to lay on a sandwich, he notes, and it’s a nice addition to a mixed salad.
The biggest jump was in fruit and vegetables, up 20% compared to November 2021.
“It’s also great for a home garden as you can easily pick off individual leaves as it grows.”
Today’s best price: $3.75 a head, Countdown
“Rocket has a bold taste with hints of pepper, spice and mustard-like flavor,” says Burke.
Because of its strong flavor, rocket – Americans call it arugula – isn’t typically eaten on its own, but it’s a great complement to not only other leaves but to pizza, when added just after baking, creamy pasta sauces or herbs and nuts in the punchy pesto.
Burke also recommends serving it with sliced pear and shaved parmesan.
Today’s best price: $3.99 for a 120g bag, New World
An increasingly popular lettuce among Kiwis, cos – also known as romaine – has a cylindrical shape with long, slender leaves and a crisp core.
This sweet-tasting lettuce is a heartier variety that lends itself to use as a scoop or wrap, although it also adds a robust element to salads – Cos is the leaf component of LeaderBrand’s bagged Ceasar, for example.
Today’s best price: $3.75 a head, Countdown, or $3.99 for a 120g bag, New World
Although not technically a lettuce – it’s an amaranth, more closely related to beetroot than iceberg – spinach nevertheless deserves a place in this lineup as a versatile leafy vegetable that can take the place of lettuce in many situations.
“Spinach is a baby leaf and it has a tender texture and sweet flavor,” says Burke. “Spinach can be added to pastas, smoothies, omelettes, sandwiches and is a great base for any salad.”
Today’s best price: $4 for a 120g bag, New World
How to store and wash your lettuce
Whatever lettuce you go for, Burke recommends storing it in a sealed container of plastic bag. If you buy bagged salad, leave it in the original packaging but add a paper towel to soak up any excess moisture, then make sure you seal it well by rolling tightly or using a clip.
LeaderBrand’s bagged salads come pre-washed, but it’s a good idea to wash unpackaged produce. A salad spinner is, says Burke, “the quickest and easiest option”, but if you don’t have one you can wash the leaves under running water then wrap in a clean tea towel or paper towel and pat dry – though don’t wring your leaves.
“I’ve also used a colander and given the leaves a good shake before using,” Burke adds.