It’s Springtime: How Do You Use Up Lettuce and Herbs?

When asking people about their weekly produce box, I heard from many of you who belong to Community Supported Agriculture Groups (CSAs).

Y’all have reported that springtime is the most difficult because your farm share is flush with lettuce and herbs. So flush that your family starts looking like a bunch of rabbits and you spend all your time clearing every possible surface in preparation for drying out little leaves. (This is not just a problem for those in CSAs but also for all you over-eager gardeners out there.)

I get it. I mean, how much lettuce and herbs can you really eat?

Fortunately, I have not been in this situation (yet) and so I am only here to offer suggestions, not my usual How-I-Get-Through-It method.

First, what to do with all that lettuce?

Main course salads and using lettuce leaves as tortillas/sandwich wraps can only get you so far. Have you ever thought about braising the lettuce? It’ll wilt down so you wind up using more per serving. It’s lovely alongside roasted meats or even as a bed for a basic chicken breast (think saltimbocca, like this one from Fine Cooking Magazine).

  • Note that while you can’t freeze fresh lettuce, you can freeze leftover braised lettuce. Add it directly from the freezer to vegetable stocks and soups.

What else can you do with lettuce?

Herbs, herbs and more herbs:

Drying herbs is space and time-consuming. No worries. There are other better-tasting, simpler and more interesting ways to use up and preserve your herbs.

  • We all know about making pesto and freezing it in ice cube trays. If you love pesto and think you’ll use it, don’t limit yourself to basil and pine nuts. Think sage and walnut, parsley and almond, cilantro and lime zest. And skip the messily annoying ice cube trays. Fill a large ziplock bag 1/3 full and lay it flat in the freezer. Try to remember to smoosh it around once before it freezes. If you forget, no worries. As long as it wasn’t too full and was lying flat, a few smacks with a rolling pin will break it up so you can snag out little bits as you need it.
  • You can also make a gorgeous gremolata as a condiment for dinner one night. Then add olive oil and freeze the leftovers as you would pesto. Stay tuned for a cilantro, orange and garlic gremolata next week when I begin the new series: Kid-Friendly Fare with Adult-Friendly Flare.
  • Some herbs freeze very well when placed as is in a ziplock bag. You can then pull some out to add to soups, stews, stuffings, braises, quiches, pasta sauces; basically any cooked preparation. This works with dill, parsley, thyme and cilantro.
  • Syrups: Herb-flavored syrups drizzle intriguingly over basic angel food cake (store-bought!) or ice cream. They can be mixed with sparkling water, plenty of ice and/or a bit of vodka for a refreshing and unique summer sipper. See my recipe for Orange Rosemary Syrup below. Lemon and basil (or thyme) work beautifully together. Or just use plain water, sugar and an herb for an even simpler syrup with just as many uses.
  • Herb salts: O.K., this still involves the space and time-consuming drying phase. But just think about the quick and delicious rub you’ve got ready for your summer BBQ or of how delighted your pals will be when they get little jars of flavor as hostess gifts (I would never give any of it away but if you’re as flooded with herbs as you claim to be, I bet you’re considering it). Here’s a recipe and a couple of methods for herb salt from Sally Schneider, author of The Improvisational Cook.
  • Can’t be bothered with that drying process? Make flavored sugars instead. Here’s a recipe for Rosemary Sugar from The Daily Spud (those cashews from Lottie + Doof look pretty incredible too). You can use this sugar in all kinds of baking. Rosemary sugar would be particularly well-loved in crumbles, lemon tarts and sauces or anything with caramel. Thyme or basil sugar would be just as tasty and versatile. Oh, and you can totally add these sugars to savory items as well. BBQ sauces and rubs are very happy with a bit of herb sugar in the mix. And think baked ham glazes, cranberry sauce, roasted butternut squash. Yes, this sugar will keep until the fall. I’m already looking forward to Thanksgiving!
  • Finally, compound butters: Mix 1 lb softened butter and 6 tbsp chopped herbs (a mixture or all one kind). Black pepper, salt and minced garlic are optional. Form into logs, wrap in plastic, freeze. Put slices onto seared steak, chops or poultry, broiled fish fillets or shellfish and onto baked potatoes or hot noodles. Mash into boiled potatoes or add to rice before cooking. Dani from the Moderate Oven puts a slice of compound butter into the middle of burgers (especially if using leaner ground meats) for a bit of juicy flavor that melts into the whole patty as it cooks.

Orange Rosemary Syrup

Makes about 1 cup

  • 1 cup orange juice without pulp*
  • 3 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 1 cup fine white sugar

Pour the orange juice into a small saucepan with a tight-fitting lid. Add the rosemary sprigs. Over high heat, uncovered, heat to a simmer. Cover and reduce heat to low. Allow to steep over low heat for 10 minutes.

Remove lid and whisk in the sugar. Stir until it has completely dissolved. Strain away the rosemary by pouring the shiny liquid through a colander and into a bowl or cup with a spout. When the syrup has cooled completely, pour into a clean dry jar or bottle. If tightly sealed, it will keep in the fridge for 3 weeks. See this info from Cocktail Jen about making simple syrups that will keep for longer, much much longer.

*Strain juice with pulp (fresh-squeezed or bought): Line a colander with a coffee filter and place over a bowl. Pour in the juice. Gently scrape the filter with a spoon as you strain because the pulp tends to clog the filter. Discard the filter and any accumulated pulp.


See the other post from this series:

What’s in the Box? Tips for Dealing with Your Weekly Organics Box Produce


Check out past Cook the Story series and find out what’s coming soon here.


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  1. #1 by Daily Spud on March 21, 2011 - 10:22 am

    Thanks for the shout-out – you’ve got some great ideas there (I mean to say, lettuce sauce, who’d have thought?!)

    • #2 by cookthestory on March 21, 2011 - 1:11 pm

      I know! Lettuce Sauce sounds so weird but it is actually so good. The best part (if you’re trying to get through lots of greens) is that it takes a whole head of lettuce and reduces it to about a cup of sauce, which is easy to use up. (You’re welcome!)

  2. #3 by Julie Nieves on March 21, 2011 - 11:01 am

    I encounter this problem even with my small backyard plots. I am hoping the bag of carrots in my bottom crisper will disappear if I stop opening the drawer lol. But I have to admit this is a GOOD problem to have! Love the idea of Orange Rosemary syrup.

    • #4 by cookthestory on March 21, 2011 - 1:10 pm

      Thanks Julie! The syrup is pretty fabulous. Do you have rosemary in your garden? I also have a whack of carrots in my crisper. They’re going into a big pot of Empty the Fridge Soup today!

  3. #5 by phyllis pittman on March 21, 2011 - 6:58 pm

    We are planting a garden for the first time in about 15 years and these ideas will come in very handy. Thanks.

  4. #6 by Julie Nieves on March 21, 2011 - 8:09 pm

    I don’t have any rosemary right now. I’ve grown it before and it will become a huge, wild bush with absolutely no encouragement. I’ve planted lovage, savory, lots of different basils, oregano, mint and parsley for my summer garden. I’ll keep checking your site for recipes ’cause I’m gonna need them!

  5. #7 by Katerina on March 23, 2011 - 7:15 am

    This syrup would go perfectly with a panna cotta! Beautiful color!

    • #8 by cookthestory on March 23, 2011 - 8:48 am

      Katerina, you are so right! Now I wish I didn’t use it all up already so I could try it. I have plans for another batch soon. I’ll try it on panna cotta then and let you know.

  6. #9 by adventuresindinner on March 23, 2011 - 9:41 am

    How about some nice Thai lettuce wraps next time?

    • #10 by cookthestory on March 23, 2011 - 2:17 pm

      Yeah, I totally love crisp cold lettuce wraps. Also, using leaves to wrap up grilled meat as can be done in some Korean BBQ restaurants – so refreshing against the hot meat and zany condiments. I meant for those kinds of wraps to be lumped in with the tortilla/sandwich wrap idea up at the beginning (which I didn’t elaborate on because I was trying to come up with things that use A LOT of lettuce per serving to really help people get through their massive shares). Thanks for visiting!

  7. #11 by Dani on March 23, 2011 - 12:10 pm

    Thanks for the mention, Chris. That herb syrup looks awesome. And although I infuse sugars with fruit peels all the time, I don’t think I’ve ever done it with any herb except maybe lavender. Great idea for summer cocktails.

    • #12 by cookthestory on March 23, 2011 - 2:19 pm

      Thanks Dani! And you’re welcome. I always love your tips and will sprinkle them in whenever I can.

      The syrup with rosemary is really wonderful. We drizzled it on angel food and leftover angel food for days before realizing just how good it is in a drink. By then we were almost out. Have to make another batch asap. Sadly, I’m not in a farm share nor do I have a garden so I am not flush with rosemary :(.

  1. Wrapping Up the Box: Empty the Fridge Soup and Frozen Fruit Smash « Cook the Story
  2. Wrapping Up the Box: Empty the Fridge Soup and Frozen Fruit Smash « Cook the Story

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