"The boring football known as iceberg." Nigel Slater
"Icebergs might be mostly water but it is not watery. Its thing is crunch." The Miller's Tale
At our recent family gathering to farewell our travellers to Spain and Portugal, my granddaughter commented, as I prepared our standard green salad - made with Iceberg lettuce - that her dad (my son) did not allow them to buy Iceberg lettuce because it was completely lacking in nutritional value. I responded that at least it had fibre for I was somewhat taken aback at such an autocratic decree because I actually like Iceberg lettuce. And yes it's the crunch, but also the taste. I like the taste. Yes I do, and I definitely like the crunch.
It is not at all fashionable though and there are plenty of people out there who are very caustic about it, so I set out to find if there were others who did like it - yes there are and Ottolenghi - poster boy of fashionable cooking of the moment - is one of them. Although I will admit there are others - Nigel Slater obviously - who don't. Stephanie doesn't even mention lettuce in her massive tome.
So what about that nutritional value? Well yes it is mostly water - 96% in fact, like celery and cucumber. But what's wrong with that? It's a way of hydrating yourself on a hot day. Cool and thirst quenching. And yes it doesn't have many calories only 10 per cup, but that might be seen as an advantage by those who are trying to lose weight. It also has Vitamin A, Vitamin K and folate, plus very small bits of Vitamin C, calcium, iron, manganese and potassium. But, you know, so what?
"Just how many food items do you eat a day purely for their exalted goodness." The Miller's Tale
Indeed. And surely much better than a whole host of things from chips, sugary drinks, donuts, and chocolate to bacon and eggs. And at least it doesn't have anything bad in it, and since it is mostly eaten virtually raw, it isn't even contaminated by cooking methods.
Cos - otherwise known as romaine seems to be the lettuce of the moment, particularly the Little Gem versions, which are stylish quartered and charred on the barbecue before being topped with crunchy nuts and seeds. But let's not forget rocket and spinach and radicchio and all those floppy hydroponic lettuces, all of which are nice too, but which are liable to go limp quite quickly and therefore not be suitable for hamburgers or San choy bau
Besides you can tart it up with stronger dressings - if you have to have salad
"With a slightly bitter lactic edge and a cool, clean and delicate taste, Iceberg has much to commend it alongside its ability to act as a sturdy carrier for some pretty strongly flavoured ingredients such as blue cheese, anchovies, and all kinds of vinegar." The Miller's Tale
"The problem with sexy and fashionable lettuces is that you can't put anything fun on them. You're restricted by aching fashionability to a boring little spritz of lemon juice, costly oil and maybe a shaving of parmesan." Tim Hayward - The Guardian
The classic here seems to be the Iceberg wedge with blue cheese dressing - a version of which by Valli Little is shown here. There are dozens of recipes on the net and to be honest it doesn't appeal but that's not because of the lettuce - it's because I'm not a fan of blue cheese - in any shape or form - no matter the animal the milk came from.
Ottolenghi - who actually confesses to being a fan of the Iceberg, has a version called
Iceberg wedges with aubergine cream and a super crunchy topping. It seems to be very popular though the version shown here is not his - I chose this picture because it's rather flashier than his. The link is to his recipe though. He also has a Crispy lettuce salad to accompany Harass-baked potato skins - a very frugal but crunchy dish. And Neil Perry offers Iceberg lettuce and mushroom salad which has an Asian vibe to it.
But salad is not the only thing you can do with Iceberg lettuce. You can use other lettuces too, of course, but Iceberg is in many cases the best one to use. There is soup - a classic French dish, - the one below is from Alice Tobias and a stir-fried version from Gladys Young, not to mention the endless variations on San choy bau and spring rolls.
"Iceberg was never about taste. It was about temperature, texture and being a vehicle for other stuff. " Tim Hayward - The Guardian
As you can see from the quotes my two main sources for today's article have been Tim Hayward of The Guardian writing about his rediscovery of the joys of iceberg lettuce and The rise and fall of the Iceberg Lettuce on a website called The Miller's Tale which gives a very comprehensive history of its rise and fall. It was an 'invented' lettuce - grown for its staying power in America, and ultimately much despised as a commercial beast.
"Iceberg was the perfect thing for a callow, show-off food lover to reject out of hand in favour of more nutritious romaine, the challenging bite of rocket, the briefly fashionable lamb's lettuce, the honourably local butterhead or the frankly inexplicable appeal of frisee." Tim Hayward - The Guardian
I could say a little more but it's dinner time and I have to go and make my Iceberg lettuce salad to accompany our reheated leftover cannelloni. Christmas comes apace and my daily free hours are shrinking, which may well lead to more blog misses. Bear with me.