Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.


The Iceberg Cometh: a tribute to the lettuce.

When I was a child in the 1960s and it was summer, there was always an iceberg lettuce in a large bowl on the table at meal times. The bowl was a single piece of carved, highly polished blond wood with a convex side curving into a sharp upper rim, like an oversized wrist bangle.

The lettuce was sometimes joined in the bowl by radishes grown by my father in the fenced-off vegetable patch at the end of the garden where the chicken coop used to be. At the table, we picked at the lettuce like rabbits; before, during or after dinner. Crunch, crunch. We must have eaten a million iceberg lettuces over the years.

Iceberg lettuce is so ubiquitous it is the subject of some derision; but while cos, radicchio and the other varieties have their uses they cannot touch the iceberg for all-round hot weather brilliance.

25 things to do with iceberg lettuce.

The iceberg lettuce in sandwiches.
Cheese and lettuce.
Egg and lettuce.
Cold roast chicken and lettuce.
Lettuce and rare roast beef with grain mustard and watercress (or alfalfa).
Lettuce, sliced chicken breast and mayonnaise.
Lettuce and smoked trout on pumpernickel.
Lettuce, cold cooked prawns or crab, sliced red onion and tartare rolled up in flat bread.
Lettuce, avocado, sliced tomato and colby cheese.
Shredded lettuce, ham off the bone, sliced swiss cheese and spring onion.
Lettuce, sliced cold roast lamb, mint jelly.
Corned beef, egg and lettuce.
And the classic on-the-road country salad sandwich: Lettuce, beetroot, tomato, grated carrot, onion, cheese. Add pineapple when you cross the Queensland border.

The iceberg lettuce in salads.
Italian: Torn lettuce, sliced tomato, onion rings, black olives, olive oil and vinegar.
Lebanese: Torn lettuce, tomato segments, cucumber, pickled turnips, chopped onion, green olives, mint, olive oil, shake of zataar or sumac.
Pellegrini: Chopped celery, white beans, diced tomatoes, chopped onion, chopped parsley on a bed of lettuce leaves.
Greek country: Torn lettuce, capsicum, cucumber, fetta, black olives, oregano, oil.
Retro 1: Carrots, red capsicum and green beans julienned and blanched; topped with a mixture of grated coconut, grated onion, cayenne pepper, salt and lemon juice and served in chilled lettuce cups.
Retro 2: Cold leftover kedgeree in chilled lettuce cups.

The iceberg lettuce Asian-style.
Marinated cooked beef strips with rice noodles, basil and mint tightly wrapped in a lettuce leaf and dipped in nuoc cham, a delicious whisk-up of sugar, water, fish sauce, lime or lemon juice, minced garlic, chilies and spring onion.
Variation: Strips of carrot and cucumber with prawn meat wrapped in lettuce.

Minced pork and vegetables with a variety of sauces served in a lettuce cup; generally known as san choi bao. (Recipes all over the net.)

Two-inch cubes of well-packed iceberg tossed in a very hot wok with peanut oil, garlic, ginger; splashed with soy and sesame oil; sprinkled with salt and sugar and quickly served as a side dish to marinated rare beef.

The iceberg lettuce French-style.
New season baby peas cooked in a little stock with chopped spring onions, mint and finely shredded lettuce. Thicken slightly with a little roux and/or cream.


Or do what my mother did most of the time: just sit it in a blond wood bowl on the table and let them tear it up. Crunch!

What do you do with lettuce?


neil said...

I swear I will never take my on-the-road country salad sandwich to Queensland. Don't get me wrong, I like a good pineapple (except for the rough end), just not in savoury mode. Maybe, just maybe sweet and sour pork, but that's it.

Btw, why do they call it iceberg? Funny name for a lettuce when you think about it.

Anonymous said...

Neil, I must admit I am partial to a sandwich of ham and pineapple on old-fashioned white bread. (Actually the pineapple creeps in not far north of Echuca. I think I even got pineapple in a salad sandwich in Numurkah once.)

According to my trusted friend Mr W. Pedia: The name Iceberg comes from the way the lettuce was transported in the US starting in the 1920s on train-wagons covered in crushed ice, making them look like icebergs.

Dr. Alice said...

Hooray, someone else who will stand up for iceberg lettuce! My favorite way to eat it is the way it is often served in steakhouses here. A wedge on a chilled plate, in solitary splendor, topped with Thousand Island dressing. It's also often served with blue cheese dressing (which I don't like.)

And I am so glad to finally know what goes into a salad sandwich. I have often wondered. I think I'd have to skip the pineapple.

Anonymous said...

Dr. A, I used to be a big fan of Thousand Island dressing. Haven't seen it for ages. I used to dip blanched asparagus in it - delicious.