Rethinking iceberg lettuce

Like many EYB Members, I spend a lot of time thinking about food. If I’m not making it or eating it, I’m reading about it. All of this time spent on one subject can make one jaded about certain ingredients or dishes. After searching out little-known and exotic items, you can easily come to disparage things that seem plain or boring, like iceberg lettuce. Helen Rosner, writing for The New Yorker, tells us that we should rethink this much-maligned green

iceberg lettuce salad

Rosner finds plenty to like about the crunchy lettuce that most food writers tend to disparage. First off, she says, to say that it is flavorless is dead wrong. She encourages us to taste iceberg lettuce anew, focusing our palate to pick up on the “clean sweetness blooming beneath the watery crunch, deepening, in the pale ruffle of the inner leaves and stems, to a toasty bitterness, with whispers of caraway and coriander seeds.” So much for boring. 

Iceberg’s signature crunch is its biggest appeal, and Rosner finds a way to play that up even more: by pickling it. Just as cucumbers get even crunchier when pickled, so do iceberg lettuce hearts. Rosner pairs the shatteringly crunchy pickled hearts with a refreshing cold soup made from the outer leaves. The description of this dish makes me regret passing up the bright green heads of iceberg in favor of a clamshell of limp baby greens. 

Reading this piece about an ingredient that doesn’t even register a second glance when I’m in the store tickled me. I love it when an article can challenge my views and make me think about food from a new perspective. Next week, a head of iceberg will likely end up in my shopping cart, and I’m actually looking forward to it. 

Photo of Iceberg lettuce salad from Delicious Magazine (Aus) 

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  • Ianknauer  on  August 12, 2018

    I LOVE Iceberg!

  • GiselleMarie  on  August 12, 2018

    I hadn’t bought iceberg lettuce in years because I was influenced by chefs who spoke of it disparagingly. I am of French descent, and while I was growing up, no dinner was complete in my family until we heaped servings of iceberg lettuce salad onto our plates as our last course. As an adult, I continued the habit of serving salad last at every meal, but romaine and other leaf lettuces were my go-tos until they, too, were replaced by kale and collard greens in recent years. My parents were coming to visit a couple of years ago and they bluntly told me before they arrived that they were tired of all the “new” greens I used in my salads. I promised that for them I would buy iceberg, fully expecting to dislike it. To my surprise, I loved the crunch, the subtle sweetness, and the light, springy color of my salads during that visit. In addition, we put iceberg lettuce on sandwiches, and it took them to a higher, toothsome level. I still use the fancier, trendier lettuces and greens so common these days, but iceberg has found a respectable place in my salad rotation and I feel like I’ve rekindled an old friendship.

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