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I Can “Cook” That! Lettuce Cup Tacos

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lettuce cup taco
photo by Graylyn Harris

By Cheryl Lange

One of the great things about working at Bonnie Plants is that I’ve learned to grow my own vegetables and herbs. I’ll be honest, though: I don’t really know what to do with all of the produce I harvest, and I’m not crazy about cooking.

Cheryl Lange and Liza Utter-Pernice
Little did I know when I met Liza at the Power of Youth event that she’d turn me into a cook! (Well, sort of.)

I recently admitted this to Chef Liza Utter-Pernice when we met at Variety’s Power of Youth event in Hollywood, which I attended as coordinator for the American Heart Association Teaching Gardens.

Undaunted by my lack of kitchen prowess, Liza showed me the Lettuce Cup Taco dish she was serving and briefly explained the recipe (which doesn’t actually require any real “cooking”). I was surprised by how simple it seemed. “I can “cook” that!” I said, and planned to do just that once I got home.

Here’s a list of the ingredients: grape tomatoes, corn, asparagus, avocados, leaf lettuce (which acts as the taco shells), Dijon mustard, shallots, sherry vinegar, champagne vinegar, roasted walnut oil (the key to the dish, Liza revealed), salt, and black pepper.

Needless to say, I do not have these ingredients in my kitchen. Though Liza told me I should be able to find walnut oil in stores like Whole Foods and Fresh Market, I came up empty and ended up ordering it online. (I am glad I did, too, because it makes the vinaigrette awesome!) It also took a bit of hunting to locate the two vinegars, but I finally found them. Everything else was easy to get—some of it even came from my own garden.

basket of ingredients for Lettuce Cup Tacos
This is all it takes to make this yummy dish. And notice—no stove! (photo by Graylyn Harris)

I was all ready to go now, right? Almost. Given my lack of experience, it seemed wise to seek guidance from someone who actually knows her way around a kitchen. So I brought Liza’s recipe and all the ingredients to my friend (and cookbook author) Stacy Harris, and asked for her help in making the tacos.

We had a great time (the tacos were delicious!), and Stacy taught me a few really useful tricks. Here are two of my favorites:
– When using asparagus, hold each stalk at both ends and snap it in two. The break will occur right where the tougher, woody end of the stem meets the tender section. Keep the tip and discard (or compost) the tougher piece that was closest to the plant.
– It’s best to drizzle the oil into the vinaigrette mixture slowly while whisking very quickly. This helps the mixture blend and emulsify. It was a bit tricky, though—kind of like trying to pat your head and rub your stomach at the same time!

Cheryl Lange cooking with Stacy Harris
Stacy is a master in the kitchen. She even made me feel right at home! (photo by Graylyn Harris)

I want to thank Liza for encouraging me to “cook”. This has been such a good experience that I plan to try more recipes and turn “I Can “Cook” That!” into a semi-regular blog (so be sure to check back in). You can find more great recipes from Liza on her website, LizaAmericasHost.com. Thanks, too, to Stacy for her help in the kitchen—there’s hope for me yet!

Now, without further ado, the recipe. Munch, crunch, and enjoy!

Lettuce Cup Tacos


Makes enough for 6-8 tacos (but you’re going to want more).

Ingredients
8 grape tomatoes (or more, if desired), cut in half
5 ears of corn, cut off the cob
5 medium asparagus spears, cut into small pieces
2 avocados, scored and scooped out into cubes or chunks
1 head of fresh Buttercrunch or Boston Bibb lettuce

Vinaigrette:
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot
1 good pinch salt
3 grinds fresh black pepper
1/8 cup sherry or red wine vinegar
1/8 cup champagne vinegar
3/4 cup roasted walnut oil (such as La Tourangelle)

Instructions
Break off, wash and dry 6-8 lettuce leaves. (Don’t use any leaves with large holes, as these will serve as your taco shells—and you don’t want the filling to fall through onto your shirt! ) Combine corn, tomatoes, and asparagus in a large mixing bowl and set aside. In a separate bowl, whisk together the vinaigrette ingredients, adding them one by one in the order listed above. Add most of the vinaigrette to the taco mixture and gently toss. Divide the mixture among the lettuce cups, then top each with 3 to 4 avocado chunks. Drizzle with the extra vinaigrette.