Stir-fried lettuce with soy sauce and sesame oil is unexpectedly and thrillingly tasty. You probably already have a head of romaine just waiting to be used, so you can experience it for yourself.
Stir-fried lettuce transforms the humble, predictable, and often ho-hum salad green into something unexpectedly special. Crisp romaine is quickly stir-fried with garlic and then finished with soy sauce and a drizzle of sesame oil for an elegant and really quite easy dish that’s done in literally less than 15 minutes. It’s a riff on the more common stir-fried iceberg lettuce with oyster sauce but made with more common ingredients.–Angie Zoobkoff
CAN I MAKE STIR-FRIED LETTUCE AHEAD OF TIME?
Nope. Well, sure, you could. But it’s not gonna go well. The same goes for leftovers. The beauty of stir-fried lettuce is how it gets just wilted enough to be unexpected and delicious. After sitting around for too long, though? It turns really, really wilted. Besides, the prep time is so quick and easy, there’s no real reason not to make it the moment you want it.
- Trim the romaine lettuce and cut it crosswise into 1-inch (2.5-cm) wide pieces. Pat the lettuce completely dry.
- Place a wok or medium skillet over medium-high heat for 1 minute. Carefully swirl in the oil. When the oil is shimmering hot but not yet smoking, add the garlic and then toss in the romaine lettuce in batches, stirring after each addition to coat the lettuce with oil before adding the next batch. This should take a total of about 2 minutes. The lettuce will have just begun to wilt.
- Add the soy sauce and sugar and give it a quick stir to coat the lettuce well. You want the lettuce to be almost tender yet still a little crisp and still bright green. Drizzle the sesame oil over the lettuce and immediately remove it from the heat.
- Move to a bowl and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Serve immediately.
Recipe Testers' Reviews
This stir-fried lettuce recipe is a keeper. It’s simple, quick, and made with ingredients most would already have on hand. AND it’s inexpensive to make. AND it’s vegan-friendly. Having said all that, the part I liked best about the stir fried lettuce, after having made it, is how versatile the recipe is. One could add spicy flavoring to give it a kick or use thinly sliced pork or chicken to make it more of a one-dish meal. For me, it was one of those moments that I thought to myself, “Why haven’t I thought of this?”
This stir-fried lettuce recipe is a quick, easy, flavorful weeknight side dish that I will definitely make again. Who knew that homely old romaine had such potential? As one of my tasters put it, this recipes “takes something quite ordinary that I wouldn’t go out of my way to eat even in a salad and makes it quite good.”
The texture of the dish is very nice—the lettuce softens but still maintains a lot of crispness and the Asian flavor profile works nicely. It’s very reminiscent of cabbage. I paired it with a braised pork dish with rice vinegar, soy sauce, and sambal oelek. I used a mix of dark and white sesame seeds as an attractive garnish. However, I would increase the batch size to 4 romaine hearts if you would like to get 4 servings out of this. It’s tasty so you aren’t going to want to skimp.
Absolutely do try this stir-fried lettuce recipe! It takes just 10 minutes to make. (Too much to ask? I think not.) I love the slight crunch of the wilted lettuce and it’s wonderful when adorned with fragrant garlic and sesame oil.
The sauce it produces isn’t watery at all and it’s delicious with cooked rice. I added the lettuce in 3 batches and my 11-inch skillet was able to accommodate all the lettuce. The key is to keep moving the lettuce for even cooking. I first fell in love with wilted romaine lettuce when I tested the Lettuce Salad with Hot Beef Dressing recipe. It makes me happy that I have another recipe to add to the “keeper” file!
Whether you’re a wok wizard or grilled salad lover or have never even considered cooking lettuce, this quick technique is a useful one and a great intro to how a simple change to how you think about lettuce can open up all sorts of new dishes. This stir-fried lettuce could serve 4 over rice or with other dishes but for us it was a main course for 2 greedy eaters. The tiny amount of sugar does the job of balancing any possible slight bitterness that you might get with lettuce, but I used a scant amount.
I also used a low-sodium soy sauce. The sesame seeds work for texture and gentle flavor. If you have a well-seasoned wok and know it well, you can probably cook at a higher heat, but medium-high is fine and the timing is about right. My guide to when the lettuce is cooked is that the color brightens (before it wilts), and this all fit in 2 batches when added to my 14-inch flat-bottomed wok. Critical for a successful (rather than a soggy) stir-fry is making sure that the lettuce is as dry as possible, so be sure to either spin it dry or blot it well so that you’re not adding excess water to the cooking. I always wash my lettuce and let them drain, then I gently press the lettuce between tea towels.
I use avocado oil in my wok, which is well behaved at high heat and neutral in flavor. (I would also suggest La Tourangelle flavored wok oils, especially if you haven’t added ginger already.) Before learning about grilling or stir-frying lettuce, the only place I had ever seen it cooked was in a great old Lee Bailey recipe for microwave risotto! I am a convert.
Overall, the stir-fried lettuce was easy to make and tasted great. The combination of flavorings that went along with the stir-fried romaine were ones that I usually use. This recipe serves 4 as a side dish—not quite enough to be a main vegetarian dish.
Originally published March 29, 2017.