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Black lettuce gets its name from its sooty-looking, purple-black leaves. Typically called Cherokee, black lettuce sometimes ranges in color from bright burgundy to mauve to nearly ebony-black. The stems of each leaf are bright green, similar in color to iceberg lettuce, but the leaves grow loosely bundled with scalloped edges, similar to romaine. It is often described as a hardy lettuce that grows quickly, even in poor soils and during dry weather. If over-watered, it doesn’t usually have its cousins’ tendency to become slimy and develop root rot.
With its crisp, slightly peppery flavor and crisp leaves, black lettuce is rapidly becoming a popular salad staple. Inexperienced gardeners who want to try seasonal cooking might choose to grow this plant in conjunction with other salad greens because it matures rapidly and thrives under most growing conditions. It also usually provides a bumper crop of dark, hearty leaves that may be eaten raw or cooked.
Young black lettuce plants typically have dusky red or even slightly pinkish leaves. As the plant grows, the leaves darken and usually ultimately become very dark. Some hybrid varieties do not become as dark as purer strains. The leaves may be harvested when they grow as large as a man’s hand and feel slightly waxy. They should typically be wrapped in paper towels and stored in the refrigerator until the cook is ready to use them.
Though black lettuce is most often eaten raw, it may also be sautéed. Cooks should typically mix it up with spinach or kale because it cooks down quite a bit. It often tastes good when seasoned with a little salt and some black pepper. Some may also enjoy its flavor when onions, spicy peppers, and crumbled bacon are added to the mix. The leaves should typically be heated with a little olive oil until they’re slightly wilted. Black lettuce can get mushy fast, so cooks should keep a sharp eye on it and not cook it too long.
When eaten raw, this lettuce can be added to a multitude of tasty and hearty salads. One combination may feature a monochrome salad with red onions, black lettuce, black olives, black tomatoes, and blackened Cajun chicken pieces. Another option would be to choose very brightly colored salad ingredients that will stand out against the dark leaves. Yellow and red cherry tomatoes, edible pansy blossoms, sliced strawberries, and orange bell peppers could be delicious mixed with the lettuce and a drizzle of bright pink raspberry vinaigrette. A simple yet colorful gourmet sandwich might include black lettuce, butter lettuce, bright red tomatoes, and some orange cheddar cheese.