Q: Several years ago in the food section of the Chicago Tribune there was a sidebar on creating a lettuce "rose" or "flower" to display on a buffet. The tiny box had a color photo of a head of lettuce transformed, I believe, into a flower with eight "petals." I have searched the archives on chicagotribune.com and Googled until my fingers fell off but have had no fortune in finding the exact instructions. The only other detail I seem to recall is that you had to put the lettuce in ice water.
—Tom Saaristo, Chicago
A: You sent this question in months ago, Tom, and I'm sure you thought I had forgotten. Nope — but I couldn't find what you were looking for either. And, frankly, I couldn't image a lettuce "flower." Fussy food garnishes — turning a carrot into a Volkswagen Beetle, say — hold no appeal for me. Then I found this story, from July 23, 1987, and I think it's what you're looking for — although there's no talk of a buffet or ice water. The piece, by a writer for the Minneapolis Star and Tribune, extols the virtues of salads served hot or room temperature as entree.
The story included a recipe in which iceberg lettuce is cut into wedges and arranged like a flower. Where the recipe came from isn't clear; celebrity Chef Wolfgang Puck and his latest cookbook (alas unnamed) are cited in the story, however. The recipe name, too, is a mystery: A "lotus" salad without any lotus. Oh well, it was the 1980s. Let me know if this is what you wanted. And, if any reader has another idea of what this lettuce "flower" should be, contact me, too.
Lotus salad with stir-fried pork and vegetables
Prep: 25 minutes. Cook: 6 to 8 minutes. Makes: 4 servings
1 head iceberg lettuce
1/2 cup each: mirin (rice wine); rice wine vinegar; toasted sesame oil
1 to 2 teaspoons dry mustard
1 1/4-inch piece ginger, grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 pound boneless pork, cut into narrow slices
1 cup diagonally sliced celery (about 2 stalks)
1 cup fresh bean sprouts
3/4 cup snow peas, trimmed
1/2 cup sliced water chestnuts
1 large tomato, cut into julienne strips for garnish
1. Cut lettuce into wedges. Arrange wedges spoke-fashion on a serving platter (to form a flower shape). Make the dressing by combining the mirin, vinegar, sesame oil, mustard and ginger in a jar; shake well.
2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in skillet. Stir-fry pork 2 minutes, or until done. Remove with slotted spoon. Add celery to the skillet, stir-fry 1 1/2 minutes. Add bean sprouts, snow peas, water chestnuts; stir-fry 1 1/2 minutes or until all vegetables are crisp-tender. Return pork to pan just to warm through.
3. Spoon the stir-fried mixture into center of the lettuce flower. Garnish with tomato in between the wedges. Serve with dressing.
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