Monday, 8 April 2013

For Beatrix Potter (1866 - 1943),

"It is said that the effect of eating too much lettuce is 'soporific.'"
   -- The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies

Beatrix Potter was a smart lady. In addition to writing children's books, she was a keen scholar and might have become a professional botanist, had the Linnaen Society not refused to let a woman present a paper. (Gasp! A woman scientist? Sadly, reactions haven't changed that much.) 

But she pottered (ha - see what I did there?) along independently, doing her own private studies, and producing brilliant scientific drawings along the way. So when she writes about the soporific effects of lettuce, you have to assume that it's more than a plot device to act upon anthropomorphised bunnies. 

Turns out, she was right. The sap from cut lettuce contains lactucarium, a substance structurally reminiscent of opium, and (in sufficient quantities) an effective sleep-inducing painkiller. It's not going to get you high or anything, but put it this way: you wouldn't want to have piles of lettuce on your poppy seed bagel before taking a drug test. 

None of this, either.
If you're just lounging around on a Saturday afternoon, however, mindlessly watching sports* on television, the relaxifying help might be welcome. So here's what you do. You take the concept of the salty TV snack, and you imagine how a flopsy bunny might alter it. Of course, you'd start with lots of lettuce. Cos leaves make for nice natural cups, so now what? 

Replace the traditional pretzel / chip snack with some healthy roasted chickpeas. Douse them in a liberal coating of chilli flakes and smoky paprika. Then assemble the whole lot with some fresh asparagus, feta, and lime cheeks. Voila! Ultra-relaxing, healthy, crunchy TV treats that you can wolf down in two bites, before curling up into a nice, lazy nap. Just don't let nasty Farmer McGregor find you.

*I never, never do this. I mean, what is the appeal of watching other people use their muscles in a pointless frenzy of narrative generation? But there was a triathlon happening outside my apartment last weekend, and I was too lazy to actually go out and watch it in person.

Chickpea Lettuce Snack Cups

Serves 2 as a substantial snack or light meal

1 head of cos lettuce
1 can (420g) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp chilli flakes
1/2 tsp salt
1 bunch asparagus
50g feta
1 lime


Preheat the oven to 180C. Toss the chickpeas with the oil, paprika, chilli, and salt. Roast for 25 minutes. Meanwhile, wash and chop the asparagus into short (1cm) segments. Add the asparagus to the chickpeas and roast another 10-15 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.

Snap the leaves off the head of cos; wash and dry well. When the roasty bits have cooled, flake the feta through and spoon the mixture into the lettuce cups. Serve with lime for squeezing.


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