In which Alejandra goes to the grocery store and discovers a new kind of mutant lettuce

The wind was biting when I left the office today so I skipped my usual six-block walk to Whole Foods, and instead popped into the nearby Morton Williams. For those of you who don't live in New York City, you should know that the grocery stores in Manhattan are a dismal lot. The big specialty stores, like Whole Foods are wonderful, but twice as expensive and always packed to the gills. The other stores—Gristedes, C-Town, D’Agostinos—all seem to exist in constant states of disarray, with employees perpetually restocking, sweeping, mopping, and doing just about anything they can to make the shopping experience as inconvenient as possible.

The Morton Williams near my office isn’t as bad as some of the others, but I’m completely puzzled by their stock. They boast an olive oil and imported Italian product selection enviable of most gourmet specialty stores. They sell just about every kind of ice cream flavor known to man (Acai Berry! Mexican Chocolate! Pinot Noir!). They even have an entire aisle devoted to British products like tea, Cadburys chocolates, and two different kinds of Marmite (ugh). And yet, they always seem to lack the most basic of products. Necessities like milk, toilet paper, and sour cream seem to never be available.

But perhaps this is the reason why I actually enjoy this store. I am not a quick food shopper. I browse supermarkets much like I do bookstores: going around and around the same aisles surveying my options and usually leaving with much more than I planned to buy. I rarely shop with a list or preset recipe in mind, preferring to base my meals on whatever is in season or simply strikes my fancy. It’s a creative process (an adventure, even) to walk into the store knowing that I have a completely blank slate on which to experiment.

Lately, I’ve been drawn to the oddball products on the grocery shelves; the dusty, imperfect things found up high or way down low, all but obscured from plain view. Morton Williams is perfect for this with its weirdo stock. Somewhere in the back of my head I seem to have decided that any items produced outside of the US must be better than their American counterparts. For this reason, I regularly come home with bags full of slightly more expensive imported products like unsalted Danish butter in lopsided little bricks, slightly dented cans of Israeli tuna, and jars of clotted cream covered with tiny British flag stickers.

Accustomed to strange little discoveries in the inner aisles, I was surprised to be surprised in an entirely new part of the store today: the produce section. There, nestled among the tightly cellophaned balls of iceberg lettuce and the lush, wet bouquets of romaine, was a plastic clamshell package containing what it proudly proclaimed to be a: “New Lettuce!”

"A NEW lettuce?!" I thought. I had no idea they were still making new lettuces! It's called “Cosmopolitan ™ Lettuce,” and claims to be the “Best of Iceberg and the Best of Romaine.” I stared at this for a while. Turning the package over and over in my hands, trying to figure out the magic behind Cosmopolitan ™ Lettuce. I’d never really seen a trademarked lettuce before, so that was exciting in itself.

At 5 dollars a pop, Cosmopolitan ™ Lettuce is twice as expensive as the other kinds, which I suppose is what one would expect of mutant lettuce. There were several packages on display, all baring a “Best By 1/24” stamp on them. Checking my watch for the date, I suddenly grew a little concerned for the Cosmopolitan ™ Lettuce, picturing it meeting an early demise in a stinky Hell’s Kitchen dumpster. I thought, "that’s no way for Cosmopolitan ™ lettuce to end its days."

So I rescued it. I adopted the Cosmopolitan ™ Lettuce, vowing to bring it home and bathe it in Meyer lemon cilantro dressing and serve topped with pieces of spicy, citrus marinated flank steak and avocado.

So that’s exactly what I did.

A bit more about Cosmopolitan ™ Lettuce*:
I may have purchased this wierdo x-lettuce out of some kind of strange sense of yuppie food guilt, but I can honestly say that I’m glad I did. The lettuce really does bring together the best parts of iceberg and romaine—the crispness of the former with the sweet, leafy flavor of the romaine.

The leaves are long, and almost taco-shaped, so they work perfectly for wraps or sandwiches. (Ideal for the low-carber who can't eat bread.) The crisp leaf holds its shape really well even when stuffed with steak and avocado (like I did), and the flavor really is a cut above.

Though a bit overpriced, I would still recommend trying it out. I couldn’t help thinking that the smaller inside pieces would be great with dips or fillings as an hors d’oeuvres.

Meyer Lemon Marinated Flank Steak with Lemon Cilantro Dressing in Cosmopolitan ™ Lettuce Wraps
This recipe would work just as well as a normal salad, but I wanted to see just how much these Cosmopolitan ™ Lettuce wraps could hole. The answer is a lot. Please note that the flax seed in this recipe is completely optional--I just like to toss it in everything as it's an amazing source of fiber and also adds a lovely (and subtle) nutty crunch.

1/2 lb flank steak
1 bunch of cilantro with stems cut off
2 Meyer lemons, juiced
1/2 cup of olive oil
1/4 cup of pine nuts or almonds
3 tablespoons of ground flax seed (optional)
2 cloves garlic
course sea salt
black pepper
Cosmopolitan ™ Lettuce leaves (or other kind of lettuce)
1/2 large avocado
3 tablespoons homemade or packaged mayonnaise

1. In a food processor, puree the cilantro, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, nuts, and flax seed. Season to taste with course salt and freshly ground pepper. The final mixture should resemble a loose pesto in texture, with a brighter (almost neon) shade of green.

2. Set aside about a third of the dressing. This will be used at the end to dress your salad so keep away from the raw meat. The rest of the dressing will be your marinade. Place the steak in a glass dish and pour the marinade over. Let marinate for at least 45 minutes, covered, in the refrigerator.

3. Broil the steak for approximately 5 minutes on each side, or to desired doneness. After removing from the oven, let sit for a few minutes (covered) so that the juices sink in. While waiting, mix the portion of dressing you originally set aside with the mayonnaise (or sour cream if you prefer).

4. When ready, slice the steak thinly against the grain (meaning perpendicular to the natural lines of the meat), and pile into your lettuce leaves. Top with a few cubes of avocado and drizzle on the dressing according to taste.



  1. If this is to be believed, Cosmopolitan™ Lettuce is literally a combination of Iceberg and Romaine through plant breeding.

    The question, I guess, is as to what sort of mutant powers your lettuce has. Can it walk through walls? Shoot lasers from its leaves? Manipulate minds?

  2. Yes, I realize it's a hybrid; I already researched it. What I don't understand is the name as it seems an odd choice for lettuce...

    As for powers, those seem to be limited to holding hearty fillings...

  3. I'm definitely trying out this recipe as soon as I can...

  4. Yes do! I had the leftovers for dinner tonight and they were great!

  5. I love the part about the mutant lettuce!! hehe

  6. I'm still stuck on the name! I kept reading back and forth from the photo to your post and I felt like...ok, when do those men/relationship/sex tips come in?

    I'll probably never find that lettuce here. It screams OGM and whether good or bad, it's a thing that the majority of italians want to avoid. Interesting post though!

  7. LOL! You're too funny. You make me want to move to NYC and shop at the little grocery stores...=)

  8. Oh...and you'd be proud of me...I tried a new receipe the other night! Okay, so it was a Rachel Ray, but it was new...and I did it!

  9. I can relate, I was so excited when I discovered Mache lettuce.

  10. i just liked that you felt bad for the lettuce...

  11. Momma: Yes! I love that you tried a new recipe. I'll even overlook the "RR" bit... I'm sorry I haven't posted the fish post yet, but I'm working on it. It'll be up soon...I promise!!

    Zen & Fret: Just further proof of the intense effect food tends to have on me... lol

  12. I bet the name Cosmopolitan is a play on Cos, the old alternative name for Romaine, derived from its supposed source on the Greek island of Kos.

  13. For me, I also live in NYC so I also know first hand about the supermarket experiences.
    For awhile now, I've been buying honey and olive oil from Holy Food Imports since they sell excellent products, and they are internet based so I don't need to lug large amounts of food home with me.
    I have a large family so I usually try to buy as much at once as possible.


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