Whether you’ve got a bounty of lettuce in your garden or you’ve found an excellent sale at your local market, there’s only so much lettuce you can eat before the crispy leaves start to go limp and decay. Freezing the remaining lettuce might seem like a thrifty move, but you must be prepared to make a lot of cooked dishes with the lettuce.
For Later Cooking Only
Freezing lettuce for use in raw salads at some far-off point in time really isn’t possible because the water in the leaves will essentially destroy the texture as the leaves freeze and then thaw. Think of frozen versus fresh spinach, for example. Fresh spinach leaves are usually pretty sturdy, but when you thaw a pack of frozen spinach, you have a green mess on your hands. That’s close to what will happen if you freeze lettuce.
The good news is that, just as you can use thawed spinach in cooked dishes, you can use thawed lettuce in cooked dishes. So if you’re willing to eat a lot of cooked lettuce, freeze away.
Image used under Creative Commons from Dwight Sipler
Start preparing the lettuce as usual. Separate leaves and wash them; dry them completely. Pressing them between two pieces of paper toweling usually works. If you want to save lettuce in small batches, cut the leaves into the size you want. You can also freeze full leaves.
For full leaves, place them flat inside freezer bags, one leaf per bag. Ensure all the air is out of the bags — HGTV Gardens suggests using a straw to suck out the air — and stack them in the freezer after you’ve sealed them.
For chopped lettuce, spread it out on a tray and freeze it partially. Check the lettuce every so often and mix it around on the tray. This will help prevent the lettuce from freezing into a large mass. When the lettuce is reasonably hard, put it into freezer containers or bags.
If you’re chopping up the lettuce into very tiny bits, you can also try packing them in ice cube trays. These will make easy-to-store cubes that you can drop into soup when you want to add a little greenery.
Whichever method you choose, try to use the lettuce within six months. While properly frozen lettuce will be safe past that, it will begin to break down in terms of quality.
Thawing the Lettuce
Let the lettuce sit for a short time in the refrigerator. If you’re adding the lettuce to something hot that will be cooked for a while, you could add the lettuce without defrosting.
Using Frozen or Thawed Lettuce
Try using thawed whole leaves, especially thicker ones that might have retained a little more structure, as wraps instead of spring roll wrappers or tortillas. Or, fill the leaves and steam them like you might do for cabbage rolls. Chopped lettuce can go in soups and casseroles.
While freezing lettuce might not let you have fresh salads for months at a time, it can provide you with something in the leafy-green family. You might want to start by experimenting first, freezing a few whole leaves and a little chopped lettuce just to see how they taste once thawed.