Stir-Fried Romaine Lettuce

ROMAINE WITHOUT THE STAMOSThis barely is a recipe at all, which is the reason for it. Who is interested in cooking a side vegetable? But if you are feeding yourself, you need to include side vegetables or you will eventually develop chronic ailments. If you are feeding other people, they will be gratified by the variety and will feel properly cared-for. Multiple dishes! A balanced meal! Here is a way to do that with as little effort and attention as possible, and with only a minor amount of danger. You need: garlic. Salt. Cooking oil. One head of romaine lettuce.

Wash the romaine. Nothing that requires washing is easier to wash. Shake the excess water off each leaf as you go-snap the wrist a little-and stack the leaves on a cutting board. Before the stack gets too unwieldy, chop the leaves crosswise into strips about as wide as a thick-fingered person’s finger. Chop those strips in half, or into thirds if you like, and put them in a colander. Keep going till you have as much as you want-half the head should take care of two people, unless it’s an itty-bitty one.

Quickly smash and peel two or three or four cloves of garlic. Maybe bust them up a little more with a knife. Do not mince the garlic. Mincing the garlic is not only against the spirit of the recipe, it is bad for the dish.

Identify the dish on which you will serve the vegetable, get it out, and put it on a stable surface somewhere near the stove. Do not start cooking until you have done this.

Pour enough oil in a frying pan to cover the bottom. Corn oil is good, as is canola. Olive oil is distracting here. Put the pan on your biggest, hottest burner and turn it up pretty high. The ideal would be to use a lightweight wok over a blasting double-ring gas flame, if not a jet engine, but you might want to try the top end of medium-high the first time or two.

Let the oil get hot, then throw in the garlic. Let the garlic get brown in parts. If the oil isn’t hot enough, let the garlic sit there and wait till it does get hot enough, at which time the garlic will get brown.

When the garlic is ready, throw the chopped romaine into the hot pan. This is where the little bit of danger comes in: if you put in only part of the romaine, and it is still wet, there may be violent little splatters of hot oil. Do not be timid. What will protect you from splattering romaine is the romaine itself, a solid pan full of it. If you approach it falteringly and drop in a little handful, the hot oil will sense your weakness and attack. If you then panic and try to shield yourself with a pot lid, you will lose control of the situation entirely. You are a human being; the contents of the pan are plant matter. Calmly and quickly deliver all the chopped leaves, and the only thing they will splatter will be their fellow leaves.

Stir the romaine. It will be wilting. Salt it-maybe as much as if you were salting a plate of french fries-and stir it around some more. As soon as all the romaine has encountered the oil and the last trace of salad-crispness is gone, before it wilts any further, get it out of the pan and onto the plate. You don’t have time to hunt for the plate now.

There. You have a vegetable, a vegetable so vegetable-y you could serve it to vegans. In fact, you have a lot of vegetables, since you can do the same thing (with slightly different chopping and timing) to cabbage, bok choi, baby bok choi, and at least three-fifths of the leafy produce in any Chinese market. You can do it with bagged spinach, and you won’t even need to wash anything (make sure the bag is open before you start). Don’t think about it; just grab something and cook it. Serve with white rice, to accompany some heavier or more flavorful dish. Or a simply-cooked piece of meat.