I bought some lettuce stem for a Chinese stir-fry that I ended up not making. This is a vegetable that I learned to cook while I was in Chengdu. I have always called and thought about it as lettuce stem, but its proper name is celtuce (or wōsŭn; 莴笋 ; asparagus lettuce).
The celtuce stem has a thick fibrous outer layer that must be completely removed to get to the tender core within. The stem has a taste and texture a bit like celery and the leaves at the top look like Romaine lettuce. My celtuce was starting to look sad, so I decided that I had to do something with it. Since I was doing a Japanese meal, pickles seemed the way to go.
After Dinner Note: I was unsure of how these pickles would turn out. Raw the stem had a very strong smell. Parboiling both removed the odor and made the vegetables just a bit tender. They must have been popular, because—even with everything else I was serving—I noticed that there were almost none of these pickles left at the end of the meal.
Karl’s Celtuce Pickles
¼ cup vinegar
2 Tbs. sugar
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. hijiki seaweed
1. Cut the celtuce stem into 1½ inch by ¼ inch bars.
Tip: If the leaves are still fresh you may pickle them as well, like turnip leaves.
2. Bring a small pot of water to a boil, add the chopped celtuce and blanch them for one minute.
3. Transfer the vegetables to a bowl of ice water and then drain them.
4. Put the rest of the ingredients into the small pot and bring it to a boil to dissolve sugar and salt.
5. Remove the pot from the heat and toss the celtuce in the sauce to coat.
6. Pour the vegetables and sauce into a jar to pickle overnight.
Tip: Be sure that all of the vegetables are submerged in the sauce. I use a wide mouth pint jar and I set a smaller lid upside down on the vegetables to act as a press. If necessary, an additional lid ring may be used if one is not enough to get everything submerged.
7. Drain the pickles and serve chilled.