A LETTUCE SANDWICH
The lettuce sandwich, two slices of bread, buttered or spread with mayonnaise, encasing a few leaves of lettuce, was a common food in the United Kingdom and the United States during the first half of the 20th century. It was common enough, at least stateside, that it came to represent unappealing food (“a limp – or soggy – lettuce sandwich”), abstention (“a lettuce sandwich diet”), or poverty (“life should not be a lettuce sandwich over the sink”). Once a symbol of squeaking by with the barest of human necessities, views of the lettuce sandwich have changed. The wildly popular West Coast hamburger chain In-N-Out now offers a lettuce sandwich called “the Protein” on their hidden menu. It substitutes lettuce for the bread, with a hamburger as the filling.
Lettuce wraps have long histories in Asian and Middle Eastern cultures. In Korea, for example, ssam, which literally means wrapped, is a dish in which leafy vegetables convey a piece of meat or other filling directly to the diner’s mouth. It typically is embellished by ssamjang, a condiment, and chopped garlic, onion, green pepper or side dishes such as kimchi. There are lettuce wraps in China (chicken or shrimp soong), Thailand (larb gai or nam sod), and in the Middle East (kisir).
Wraps gained popularity in the United States during the 2000s fueled by growing interest in low carbohydrate diets. They often are served as appetizers, but they also can be a salad course or entrée. Make sure your lettuce is perfectly clean and patted dry, and choose a variety that is tender but strong enough to hold a filling. Iceberg is the most common choice, but Bibb or Boston lettuce, red leaf and romaine are excellent alternatives. The slightly bitter taste of endive, escarole or radicchio can be delicious, and large, pliable spinach leaves are a possibility as well.