When I saw this lettuce in at the farmers' market last weekend, I did a double take: heaped up in the basket, it looked almost black and very intriguing. The farmer told me it was called 'Cherokee,' and encouraged me to try some. So I took a few heads home and served them for supper that night dressed in a simple vinaigrette. This lettuce is well worth seeking out for its taste just as much as its exotic coloring. And, it's easy to grow in the garden!
While it can look black, Cherokee's coloring actually a deep magenta/purple with bright green stems and centers, and pale pink/white veins. It really is stunning!
Cherokee is a looseleaf lettuce which means it does not form a compact head like iceberg. In the garden, it is slow to bolt with a high tolerance to heat and bottom rot, making it easy to grow. It has a mild flavor with a slightly bitter finish, and a soft leaf and crunchy stem.
Here are a few culinary ideas to highlight Cherokee's amazing color:
• all-purple salad with radiccio, thin sliced red onion, chive blossoms and opal basil (would blackberries be pushing it?)
• salad with bright yellow and orange nasturtium blossoms
• as a bed for carrot salad, or a whole salmon fillet, or
• on sandwiches or as ssäm (lettuce-wrapped parcels)
Cherokee also mixes beautifully with green lettuce and makes a nice addition to any tossed salad. If you don't see it at your markets, ask your farmer to try growing some. Or try it in your own garden -- you can order seeds from Johnny's Selected Seeds.
Related: Simple Tip: How to Wash Lettuce
(Image: Dana Velden)