Alternative leafy greens when lettuces are expensive or unavailable

Alternative leafy greens when lettuces are expensive or unavailable

The recent heavy rain events created havoc with vegetable production around Auckland. Lettuces @$7 each and a broccoli head @$4.50 each tell a sad story for veggie eating in Auckland now. As the weather gets colder plants grow more slowly so high prices could be around for a while.

Our own lettuce crop was munched heavily by caterpillars so there’s less in the garden here too. The next generation is growing – slowly, but caterpillar-free now.

Time to look for alternatives!

Other salad greens we can ‘forage’ from our garden include

  • Young dandelion leaves,
  • Endive,
  • Rocket,
  • Coriander,
  • Chervil,
  • Mizuna,
  • ‘Miners Lettuce’,
  • Herb Robert,
  • Gotu kola,
  • Corn Salad [also called Lambs Lettuce],
  • Watercress,
  • Parsley,
  • Chicory
  • Nasturtiums,
  • Mustard greens,
  • And more.


There’s quite a range to choose from. These appear in autumn/winter by themselves so when lettuce becomes scarce, I go searching for other options and am pleased to find a range to supplement our salads.

In colder weather these alternatives can be sweet and nice to eat. In warm weather they become bitter so if you like juicy, sweet salads, choose young, new leaves and enjoy them in cooler weather.

Many of us may not have used these lettuce alternatives  before. I had to learn to look beyond the ‘iceberg lettuce’ which was all we had in my childhood. Now is a good time to explore these to replace expensive lettuces.

One of our main alternatives is endive. We have 2 varieties self-seed and in cool weather they give lovely sweet frilly leaves – these have become a staple for salads.


Other alternatives to lettuce

We use sprouts more when leafy greens are expensive or hard to grow.

Alfalfa and red clover are our favorites for lettuce alternatives.



Lentil and mung bean sprouts are more substantial so go well in stir fries. Soybeans make soy milk for tofu and patties.


2014-11-24 08.28.04
Sprouts from top left to right – soybeans x2, lentils, mung beans; then below are more lentils [I use different varieties] and alfalfa

Interested in our easy ways to grow and use sprouts? More info – here.



Another alternative to lettuce for salads is micro-greens.

Micro-greens = ‘small greens’ I suppose.

Micro-greens growing well
Assorted micro-greens growing well in punnets 

We experimented with growing an assortment of micro-greens – alfalfa, red clover, lentils, peas.


micro-greens beginning to grow
micro-greens beginning to grow


We used shallow punnets of potting mix/mulch and sowed seed thickly on the surface, then sprinkled a little more covering over the top. We watered them well and placed them in a warm spot. These are in a sheltered space on our patio facing northeast [a sunny spot here in Auckland].

This collection began as a very mixed collection of ‘whatever seeds I had’ and included alfalfa, red clover, lentils, mung beans, peas.

They grew at different rates so we could snip off something over a long period. After snipping the green tops above the bottom leaves, many regrew and gave a 2nd harvest.

I think I prefer growing sprouts –  easier, less mess, more return for the effort. But I wouldn’t have known this if I’d not experimented and grown some micro-greens. You might prefer these types of greens – you never know until you try.


Other alternatives

Asian greens are another good crop to plant now – they grow fast even in cooler weather.

  • Mizuna,
  • Pea shoots
  • Mustard greens
  • Water spinach [Kang kong]
  • Chinese celery
  • Chinese cabbage
  • Chinese broccoli
  • Bok choy
  • And many more!

Some are nice raw and others we prefer cooked, usually in a stir-fry.


A final thought as to how we use these ‘lettuce alternatives’ sometimes:

Here’s how we put together ‘lettuce wraps‘ – with everything other than lettuces too!


I hope you have a greater range of options for lovely salads in the cooler weather – even when lettuces are expensive!

Or maybe you like to experiment and try different tastes – there are many to explore.

Have fun and enjoy the exploration



Sprouts – our easy way to grow and use them

Sprouts – our easy way to grow and use them

We can even make sprouts taste nice so we get nutrients we need in a pleasant form!

When salad greens are hard to grow or expensive, sprouts can fill a gap to supply essential nutrients for our cells and bodies. We can use sprouts in salads, in stir fries and casseroles or curries, in shakes or smoothies.

Alfalfa and red clover are our favorites for salad lettuce alternatives.

We add a bunch of these sprouts to other salad greens – a few dandelion leaves, endive, parsley, rocket, Mizuna, etc. Then add a favorite dressing or put them in a sandwich with peanut butter – that works well.

My current favorite dressings are

  • a balsamic dressing or
  • a thicker, creamy dressing made from tahini and apple cider vinegar/lemon juice. Mix 1-2 tablesppons of tahini with a teaspoon of the juice/vinegar in a small jar. Add any seasonings you like [Salt, pepper, tamari soy sauce, garlic, etc] Add some water [2-3 tblespns about] to the jar and shake vigorously. When combined, leave to rest and thicken up and become creamy. Nice. Keeps in the fridge 2-3 days.


Red clover sprouts growing well


Lentil and mung bean sprouts are more substantial so go well in stir fries. Soybeans make soy milk for tofu and patties. Chickpeas make great hummus or can go into casseroles or curries.


growing sprouts
Sprouts from top left to right – soybeans x2, lentils, mung beans; then below are more lentils [I use different varieties] and alfalfa

How we grow sprouts:

Get fresh seeds which are not treated! Really important if we want seeds to sprout and grow. Old or treated seed is often dead and just rots instead.

Find some jars and rubber bands and a pieces of mosquito netting [or some other fabric which water will drain through].

I love the circular screw-threaded jar tops with mesh inserts. These fit onto some jars I already have and make it easy to rinse the sprouts often.

First I put 1-2 teaspoons of small seeds or 1 tablespoon of larger ones in a jar as in the photo. Cover with the mesh top. half fill the jar with cool water and leave it sit for an hour or 2. [Sprouts prefer rain water or filtered water if you have it.]

[Important extra step for sprouting mung beans: soak mung beans in hot water to get best germination rate. In cool water some mung bean seeds fail to germinate and stay as hard little balls in the sprouts – not nice to eat and hard on teeth. Hot water has been very effective for us in giving great rates of germination – easy solution!]

Drain off the soaking water and rinse again in fresh, cool water.

Rinsing removes anything which would rot or ferment and makes sprouts taste good [don’t drink the rinse water]. Our jars sit on the ledge above the sink. Yes, I know sprouts grow better in the dark but I forget them there. They grow fine by our sink and I remember to rinse then drain them into the sink at least 2 x daily.

When are sprouts ready?

When small salad sprouts grow green leaves and look ready, they either go into a meal or the jar lid is changed for a solid one [to stop moisture evaporating out from the sprouts] and put into the fridge. They will keep there for some days.

Larger sprouts are better used or refrigerated when they just start to sprout only – well before green leaves stage – or they are more likely to rot instead. Look for the tiny white rootlet which first appears.

Many recipes with dried beans, peas or other such legumes say to start by soaking the dried seeds before using them. Sprouting live seeds for a day or so will activate far more nutrients in the seeds than just soaking them – it just needs more forward planning for meal production [or some in the fridge]!

Sprouts are often added as a garnish to recipes. This is an easy way to start adding them to your meals too.

Another way is to chop small sprouts [eg alfalfa or red clover] very fine and add them to a dressing or salad. They disappear into the rest of the ingredients.

A shake or smoothie can be enhanced with these delicate sprouts added too.


$2-4 dollars buys a packet of sprouting from a reputable supplier [eg Kings Seeds]. Each 30 or 100 gram packet will grow MANY jars of sprouts. Such a small price for great nutrient supplies!

Just now lettuces are up to $7 each to buy here, so sprouts are much more cost effective. Just a few sprouts will help our bodies have the nutrients they need so it’s worth the effort.

Sometimes we take an easy option and buy a punnet of ‘ready to eat’ sprouts from the veg section of a supermarket or green grocer. Still cheap greens.

We grow

  • Alfalfa
  • Red clover
  • Mung bean
  • Lentils [assorted varieties]
  • Chickpeas
  • Soybeans
  • Dried beans or peas of various types when I want to experiment.

If this is a new experiment for you, start by adding a few amidst other things you enjoy in salads, shakes or veg. It can take a few different experiments to find what works for you. I wasn’t a great salad sprouts fan until I added them to a creamy dressing.

I often add a toasted seed mix – sesame and sunflower seeds gently roasted in a dry frying pan then sprinkled with tamari soy sauce – yum!

Hope you enjoy trying different options when greens are in short supply – or you just want to try something new.