The Next Best Thing to a Salad is Apparently a Lettuce Wrap
A few weeks ago, my mom offered me some fresh lettuce from her garden, and by “some” I mean she offered me enough to fill up a gallon Ziploc bag, which was pretty awesome. The problem, however, was that I didn’t feel like chopping it up to make a big bowl of salad. I love a good salad, but damn if it doesn’t take me too long to make one the way I love them. I just didn’t feel like going through that whole process on that particular day.
I consider making a salad a whole construction job even if there aren’t many other ingredients added aside from the lettuce since I even take care with the way I tend to chop my lettuce, which would probably be deemed more of a slicing technique than chopping. Trust me, the way I prepare my lettuce for a salad is legendary amongst my family, and whenever someone wants a salad that requires lettuce, I’m the person they call on regardless. Sure, they complain about the preparation time, but it’s always worth it in the end because in my eyes, even though it’s just a little something prepared for either myself or somebody I’ve known my entire life, presentation is everything. I mean, taste comes first, but presentation comes in at a close second. After all, I believe people eat with their eyes as well their tastebuds.
I feel the need to throw this paragraph in before I go on concentrating on my lettuce wrap revelation. I think when a lot of people think of food presentation and people “eating with their eyes”, they mainly think of food shows on network TV and fancy restaurants. I also think they correlate the idea of food presentation with this idea of people trying to be extravagant and food presentation taking up a ton of their time when that couldn’t be further from the truth. You can quite literally make your food more appealing with colorful (healthy) ingredients or arranging the ingredients in a particular way. It’s not hard to get ideas for this since they’re all over Instagram and people have video food tutorials on YouTube. There is one holistic YouTuber that I watch on a semi-regular basis and although her food tends to pack a great nutritional punch, it always looks like garbage. Some of the drinks and soups she makes for herself and her kids look like diarrhea, her full meals look absolutely bland, and nothing she prepares looks appealing to the eye. This isn’t an assessment of how her food tastes — I have no idea — but how unappealing it looks. And it’s the perfect recipe for her kids to rebel against the healthy eating patterns they grew up with if her food really does taste bland. It’s easy to make a pizza look good, and once you take a bite of it, and it tastes delicious, your mind will correlate the beauty of the pizza with the wonderful taste. Same with a burger, French fries, hot dog, nachos with cheese, chili cheese fries, and BBQ and buffalo style chicken wings. I think that happens with a lot of people, especially when it comes to takeout. The takeout meals look appealing and taste appealing, but they don’t get the same appeal when they cook themselves, which is why so many opt for takeout. I rarely eat out. One part of that is I don’t look at cooking as a chore, and another thing is, after eating in restaurants a handful of times in my life, most of the food I prepare for myself looks similar to the ones in restaurants and tastes better to me. I honestly think that if more people practiced their simple cooking and other food prep skills, they’d be more inclined to eat more of their own food. Rather than eating their own food because they have to, they’d actually want to.
Back to the lettuce wraps.
All of the leaves my mom gave me that time were huge, deep green leaves. However, they still tasted like most lettuce, and I don’t think lettuce tastes that good by itself. It’s ironic that I love salads made with tons of lettuce, don’t want to eat tacos without lettuce on them, I put lettuce in my smoothies and on some of my sandwiches, but by itself, lettuce just tastes like swampy “green”, sometimes bitter, grass. I admit that it’s weird that I like lettuce, which is probably why I go out of my way to make sure my salads taste and look so good. On the other hand, I knew it was going to be tricky to fit all of my usual ingredients into the wrap regardless of how big the leaves were, so I had to narrow down what I was going to use.
I ended up choosing to use one pouch of Starkist Tuna Creations Hot Buffalo Style seasoned tuna, some sharp shredded cheddar cheese, croutons, French fried onions, and some Italian dressing. I felt like the croutons and French-fried onions were a bit much, but I went on with it anyway, rolled up the lettuce to make a wrap, hesitated, and then took my first bite.
Oh, my my my! Talk about a party in my mouth!
I had no idea that a frickin’ lettuce wrap was going to taste that good. I took a second bite to confirm that it was possibly the best thing I’d eaten so far that year, and the second bite confirmed it. Then I looked at what was left of the wrap dubiously. I truly didn’t understand what was going on. I kept asking myself how in the world it could taste better than a regular salad…but I kept eating and figured I’d try to answer that question later.
Once I was done with a second wrap, sans the French-fried onions, I came to the conclusion that the reason the wrap seemed to taste so different to me from a regular salad was because with every single bite I got every single ingredient I’d put into the wrap in one go. With a salad, it’s much different. With every forkful of salad you pick up, you probably won’t get half of the ingredients you put into the salad no matter how much you try. Plus, with a regular salad, everything is scattered throughout your bowl or plate making it practically impossible to figure out where everything is in the first place. Therefore, with a traditional salad made with lettuce (regardless of its type; for example, a Cobb or Caesar) you’re not going to get the full effect of the flavor.
Well, that was my initial theory. However, the conclusion I came to that time was flawed as well. Why? I’ll explain right now.
Those first two lettuce wraps were huge, but I tackled another one the following day because I still had plenty lettuce left. That day, I decided to forego the croutons and dressing right along with the French-fried onions, which really only left me with the tuna and some of the same cheese as before. I was trying it out to see how bland it would be without all the extras, but by George, it wasn’t bland at all. It was still really good! I was truly mind blown that the same lettuce with only some pre-seasoned tuna and cheese tasted so delicious. And before you assume it, no, I was not very hungry before I ate it.
Maybe it was the lettuce. I have thought of that. It was totally organic after all, grown by mom’s own hands and free of all the yucky possible cancer (or other illness) causing stuff that can be present on produce. The bottom line is, I really don’t know what made them so delicious, but I had to take a minute to consider what I’ve always thought of wraps.
The types of wraps that I’d had before were from fast food places in the very distant past like KFC, and typically, although those wraps included “some” lettuce (just enough to notice there was something green in your food while not really calling any attention to itself) they were usually wrapped with a soft tortilla or the like. When I thought of a real lettuce wrap, I always thought of middle-aged women lunching at a country club and the lettuce wrap they ordered costing $35 each (possibly more) and probably containing lobster or shrimp. You don’t just randomly go over to somebody’s house and they’ll tell you they’re having a lettuce wrap for lunch — at least I don’t know anybody like that. So, while I knew lettuce wraps existed and were a thing, I didn’t know who they were a thing for. Until now.
I did a quick Google search to see what other people’s (or restaurants’) lettuce wraps look like, and I gotta tell ya, if I ordered a lettuce wrap at a restaurant and it came to me looking like the one I saw online, I’m not sure how I’d feel. For one thing, the lettuce wraps I saw online weren’t really wraps, but they were more like lettuce bowls. In other words, two or three large lettuce leaves holding what looked like corn beef hash from the can. Those were the ones made by chefs, or the ones you’d probably end up paying no less than five bucks for. However, the ones that looked as if they’d been prepared with at least six or seven leaves of lettuce wrapped around things like grilled chicken strips, fresh tomatoes, and the like were actually homemade. In other words, the one that looked as if they packed some heavy nutritional value had to be made in your own kitchen rather than ordered off a menu.
I’m sure that after being cooped up inside during the pandemic with the stay-at-home orders in place around the globe plenty of people learned a trick or two they never would have if they hadn’t had to, especially when it comes to food. As for me, I was never one to go out to eat anyway and always had fun preparing my meals and trying out new foods, yet even I’d never tried to make a lettuce wrap before. It was a great experiment that I’m very grateful for.
Who would’ve known that a bout of midday laziness would’ve resulted in something so unexpectedly…scrumptious?