As soon as you see the way this lettuce grows, you’ll understand why it got the name Tennis Ball Lettuce. Similar to Boston lettuce, it grows in small, round, green rosettes that look just like tennis balls, but much tastier. At the turn of the century, this silky lettuce was one of the most popular types available. As far back as the 17th century, it was common to pickle it in salt brine the way cabbage leaves are sometimes pickled to this day.
Asian Salad with Garlic Chips and Nuoc Cham Caramel
Servings: 3-4 servings
Active: 30 minutes
Total: 30 minutes
- 1 large head tennis ball lettuce
- 1 medium carrot
- 1 small daikon radish
- 1 large head of jumbo garlic
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- Kosher salt to taste
- 1 cup brown sugar, plus 2 tablespoons water
- 1/2 cup fresh lime juice from 4-5 limes
- 1/2 Tbsp sambal sauce
- 2 Tbsp soy sauce or tamari (for gluten free)
- 1 tsp fish sauce
- 1/4 cup roasted peanuts, chopped, if desired
Prep the lettuce by cutting off the root end and simply tearing the leaves by hand into smaller pieces. For the inner leaves which are woven more tightly together, use a knife to rough chop it. Grate the carrot and daikon either using a cheese grater or the attachment on a food processor. Place lettuce and vegetables in a bowl and set aside.
To make the garlic chips, take the individual cloves of garlic out of the skin, keeping the cloves intact. Slice the garlic lengthwise very thin, using a mandolin if desired. Place the garlic in cold water to cover and bring to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes then strain, blotting dry with a paper towel (this process can be repeated up to four times, each time taking more of the astringency of the garlic and making it sweeter) . Fry the garlic in hot vegetable oil (it should be shimmering) for 5 minutes, or until slightly golden brown. For easier frying and draining, use a very fine mesh strainer. Drain on a paper towel and sprinkle with kosher salt.
To make the nuoc cham caramel, place the brown sugar and water in a non-stick saute pan, and cook until starting to bubble. Once the water has dissolved and the caramel is a slight golden brown and the bubbles have become large and abundant, add the lime juice. Be careful to do this off the heat, as the juice will want to splatter. Bring back to the stove under medium heat, and stir in the sambal, soy sauce and fish sauce. Simmer for an additional 10 minutes to reduce, then cool and reserve.
Mix the lettuce, carrot and daikon mixture with the reserved and cooled nuoc cham to your desired liking (a little bit goes a long way). Top salad with the garlic chips and for an additional crunch, you can add 1/4 cup roasted and chopped peanuts.
Recipe and food photography by Dain Holland, a local Denver chef, and Lauren Howe of Slow Food USA
If you’re interested in growing Tennis Ball Lettuce, you can order seeds from Native Seeds. Alternatively, you can order the Ark of Taste Collection with 6 packets of seeds, including Tennis Ball Lettuce.