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Cooking from Scratch for Busy Moms: Wilted Lettuce

Updated on March 19, 2016
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An easy traditional old-time favorite main dish

Wilted lettuce is an old-time traditional favorite that can serve as a main dish or light dinner unto itself, though our family generally includes a more substantial second offering.

This hearty salad can become a satisfying complete meal just by including toasted garlic bread on the dinner menu. In our family, one of our favorite additions is “parsley butter potatoes”—which is just boiled potatoes slathered with butter and seasoned with parsley (and sometimes chopped garlic).

Wilted lettuce has many variations, so that seasonal vegetables and greens of all kinds can be included. Salad mixes such as mixed spring greens, spinach greens, and arugula can be included.

Many people feel that no salad is complete without tomatoes, so feel free to change or add to this recipe! The addition of a central mound of peas and hard-boiled egg quarters is just my own version. Even the dressing has sometimes varied among the various traditional cuisines that claim it for their own.

But no matter how you make it, wilted lettuce is hard to beat for a quick, easy, and inexpensive meal.

No one knows the origins of this very old traditional salad. Midwestern cooks and German immigrants claim it for their own, and African Americans claim wilted lettuce as a traditional meal dating back to slave days. One writer says that the dressing for wilted lettuce of slave days was made with buttermilk, rather than vinegar. James Beard, in American Cookery, says that, “it is the oldest and probably most functional of salads.” Beard’s version is made with dandelion greens and comes from Italy.

In former times, wilted lettuce was a favorite early summer dish, because of the over-abundant lettuce from the garden—which needed to be used quickly, before it bolted and turned bitter. For the modern homemaker, lettuce and other favorite ingredients are "abundant" mainly when They're on sale—which could happen just about any time.

Salad ingredients

1 head of lettuce (leaf lettuce or Romaine is best, not iceberg lettuce)—about 1 pound

1 medium onion, thinly sliced and separated into rings (red onions are prettiest)

1 pound frozen peas, thawed

4 hard-boiled eggs, halved

4-6 slices of bacon, fried crispy and crumbled

Coarsely tear the lettuce and put it in a bowl. Separate the onion slices into rings and toss with the lettuce. Make a mound of peas in the center of the lettuce/onion mixture. Arrange hard-boiled egg halves decoratively around the mound of peas. Sprinkle crumbled bacon over all. Prepare the salad dressing.

Salad-Dressing Ingredients

3 tablespoons bacon drippings

4 tablespoons vinegar

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

Heat the bacon drippings in a pan. Blend in the salt, vinegar, and sugar. Heat to boiling and pour over the salad mixture.

Wilted lettuce makes a full meal when served with buttered boiled potatoes, seasoned with parsley, and/or garlic toast.

You'll love whipping up this healthy and quick old-fashioned favorite. And you'll probably find that your kids are impressed too!

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