From the Farmers' Market: Black Lettuce!

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!
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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)

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