In Defense Of Iceberg Lettuce

Sunde White Illustrates her essay about iceberg lettuce

Eat me!

grilled shrimp on blue cheese wedge

Perfect dinner!

A bunch of snobs have been talking trash about Iceberg lettuce lately and I’m here to talk trash back.  They write about how tasteless it is, a throwback to the fifties, when no one knew what good food was.  “It’s so American!!!  So old fashioned, a throw back!!” they proclaim.

It’s tasteless?  No lettuce is really a bastion of flavorful journeys and every lettuce on earth has its place and purpose.  Like Romaine, it’s nice too, perfect for Cesars.  It has a bright flavor with a hint of bitterness and, if it’s right off the farm it will be very sweet at the end.  I love picking up a head of Romaine sliced in half with my hand, coated with Cesar dressing and topped with a feathery pile of parmesan and eating it bite by bite.

How about Butter Lettuce?  It has an okay flavor, no stronger or better or sweeter than Iceberg or Romaine.  Torn into a salad with very sweet tomatoes, paper thin onions and very lightly dressed with a simple vinaigrette, it’s fine.   Its leaves make perfect little cups waiting to be filled with tuna salad if that’s your jam or they are useful to make wraps with.

So what’s wrong with Iceberg?  You know what’s wrong with it to some people?  It’s cheap and easily available, common if you will.   So people act like it must be horrible or low class. This mentality is so limiting.  So often something in our culture is so well known, so common, that people mistake it for being average or ordinary.

I’ve heard this argument about the Beatles a lot.  They have been so prevalent in our culture over the past 60 years or so that all of us can sing their songs  in our sleep.  We are all on a first name basis with them, John, Paul, George and Ringo.  Their heavy Liverpool accents have become cartoony.  We know every word to their songs.

Their greatness–their shine– dulls because they have become a background song, an easily hummable tune.  Their lyrics are so well known they seem simple, easy. The Beatles have become common.  But they weren’t common when they first exploded into the yawning black hole of mediocre pop music that came before them and they aren’t common now, they are just known and familiar.

Well listen up, the same principle applies to Iceberg lettuce.  It is wonderful, refreshing and resistant to soggifiying.  The taste (or lack of it) is really irrelevant.  It’s a vehicle to hold flavors, especially salty strong flavors like blue cheese or bacon. The water in each crunchy bite cleanses the salt and fat off your tongue so you never get overwhelmed with too strong of flavors and can put your fork down at the end of the meal feeling perfectly satisfied and balanced.

Also it’s the right lettuce to shred and put in a sandwich or hamburger*.  It takes on the juices and flavors of the burger or sandwich and becomes an amazing sort of slaw but is strong enough to not wilt and become limp.  Just try to achieve that with butter lettuce, it’s like eating wet paper.

So be strong in your good taste, don’t give in to these haters.  The next time someone scoffs and rolls their eyes at Iceberg, politely pull them aside and text them this blue cheese dressing recipe.  Let them know to chop the lettuce in chunky quarters, add thick slices of red onion, shredded carrots and ripe cherry or plum tomatoes and if you feel like it, add some nice grilled chicken or shrimp for a perfect dinner.


Chunky Blue Cheese Dressing:

1 cup mayo

1 cup heavy cream

2 tbsp red wine vinegar

½ tsp salt

Cracked black pepper to taste

2 finely chopped garlic bulbs

5-6 oz crumbled blue cheese

*Please enjoy my essay, The Importance Of Shredded Lettuce here