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Don’t hit this iceberg. March 13, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. This morning, I read a story on Yahoo news begging people to stop hating iceberg lettuce. I couldn’t agree more. As a health-conscious, salad-loving foodie, I adore Romaine, arugula, watercress, radicchio, endive, escarole, kale, and all the other salad greens that pack more vitamins and minerals in every leaf. But I also love iceberg lettuce and Boston, Bibb and the other butter lettuces with their unrivalled crunch or luscious, buttery texture. Right, they don’t pack the nutrients of the super-greens. But they’re still good for you.

Iceberg in particular has acquired a bad reputation because it has little nutritive value and little taste. Both these claims are true. But what iceberg does have is loads of water, fiber and crunch, and, like most greens, virtually no calories. To my mind, that puts it on the plus side in terms of a dietary addition. Filling, hydrating, no calories? Count me in. I’d rather eat an iceberg salad for lunch or before supper than gag down bazillion glasses of water any day.

Popular culture has come on board with this in the form of the wedge salad, an old, resurrected favorite that features a wedge of iceberg, typically topped with blue cheese dressing and crispy bacon, and served as a fabulous appetizer in steakhouses. Diners just can’t get enough of the crunchy, creamy, crispy treat. As a vegetarian, I make my own as an occasional hi-cal treat for our friend Ben and myself, with wedges of iceberg topped with chopped tomatoes, diced sweet onion, crumbled blue or gorgonzola cheese, and olive oil-based blue cheese dressing. Yum!!! Talk about the perfect salad to go with pizza or a tomato sauce-based pasta dish. Or, say, a lunch all by itself.

But wedge salads aren’t the only thing iceberg lettuce is good for. A nice fat slice of iceberg adds that perfect crunch to a BLT or CLT (cheese, lettuce and tomato) sandwich. A few iceberg leaves also add heft and crunch to a burger, cheeseburger, or veggie burger. And shredded iceberg, available in the produce section of most grocery stores, is the perfect accompaniment to homemade tacos or ingredient in homemade burritos or taco-inspired dips.

We absolutely love making homemade tacos with refried beans and our choice of toppings, including piles of shredded iceberg, shredded cheese, sliced black olives, sliced jalapeno peppers, diced red, yellow or orange bell peppers, sliced green onions (scallions), diced sweet onions, chopped tomatoes, our choice of red or green hot sauce (or both, we both love chipotle and I’m a big fan of tomatillo), and sour cream. Iceberg may not add to the flavor but it sure does add to the crunch, and since its calorie count is close to zero, piling it on can help counter the cheese and sour cream.

This works when you’re loading up a hoagie at Subway or Jimmy John’s or wherever, too. Ask for lots of shredded iceberg lettuce to balance out the calorie load and up the crunch factor.

And if, like me, you hate the soft, revolting texture of the ever-popular “spring mix” and baby spinach, but appreciate the colors and nutrients, consider adding shredded iceberg to the mix to bulk it up and add actual crunch. Yes, you can add nuts and pepitas and sunflower seeds and the like, and you should, they’re giving you omega-3s. But iceberg contributes a texture hit that is desperately needed. Romaine does this too, which I suspect makes Caesar salads so popular: you have crunch, creaminess, and sliced hard-boiled eggs, plus salt and pepper. No soft, decaying spring mix here!

I don’t have a clue why this lettuce variety was called iceberg. It hardly seems like an attractive name. But its sturdy, crunchy texture, its ability to stand up to storage conditions, and its lack of flavor—seemingly a drawback, but actually an asset where crunchy texture is called for in a dish without additional flavor—should make iceberg a respected ingredient on all our grocery lists.

Bring on those wedge salads!

‘Til next time,

Silence

Reinventing the wedge. July 28, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Iceberg lettuce gets a bad rap. Silence Dogood here. Everyone’s always beating up on iceberg, trumpeting its lack of nutritive value, urging us to eat limp, faintly moldy-tasting “spring greens” and spongy, tasteless spinach instead.

Now, I’m all for spinach, sauteed in olive oil with garlic or washed and steamed in its own moisture and served with a splash of good balsamic vinegar. I’m all for nutritious greens in salads: arugula, Romaine, kale, mustard greens, watercress, endive, escarole, and radicchio are all favorites. But I’m not for bashing iceberg, a lettuce that provides tons of crunch and fiber.

To me, salads should be crunchy. Veggies are important not just for their nutritive value but for their all-important fiber content. Consuming plenty of fiber is every bit as important for our health as consuming nutrients, and iceberg lettuce is loaded with fiber. Far from being vilified, iceberg deserves a place in the salad rotation.

One of the most iconic uses of iceberg lettuce is in the wedge salad, a wedge of iceberg with blue cheese dressing, chopped tomato, and diced bacon, basically a blast from the indulgent past. But what say you decided to upgrade the wedge?

Here are some ways to take the basic wedge from good to great, starting, of course, with organic iceberg:

* Forget the gloppy storebought dressing. Try a wedge of iceberg covered with chopped tomato, sweet onion, crumbled blue cheese, a splash of olive oil, and Real Salt or sea salt and fresh-cracked pepper.

* Skip the blue cheese. Sub green goddess dressing on your wedge. We love this, but you can put any dressing you like on a wedge, from peppercorn parmesan to ranch to French or thousand island.

* Head South of the Border. Try a wedge slathered in homemade guacamole. It’s so easy! Get a ripe avocado, a sweet onion (like Vidalia or Walla Walla), a bunch of cilantro and a tub of fresh hot salsa from your grocery’s produce section. (You want fresh salsa, not cooked; look for visible chunks of tomato, onion, green pepper, hot pepper, etc., no sauce.) Dice half the onion in a bowl, add about a quarter cup of the salsa (or more to taste), at least a quarter-cup of chopped cilantro, and a good splash of hot sauce. (We like Tabasco Chipotle for this.) Now, halve your avocado and pop out the seed, then quarter the avocado. Starting at the stem end, peel each avocado quarter with your fingers—the skin comes right off—and set it on a plate. With a knife, dice the avocado quarters, sprinkle the diced avocado with lemon juice, salt, and pepper, and mash it with a fork, leaving about half the dice intact and the rest pulped smooth. Mix the mashed avocado into the onion-salsa-cilantro mixture and you’re good to go. Yum!

* Try a shrimpless shrimp cocktail. What makes a shrimp cocktail really isn’t the shrimp, it’s the sauce. Mix the hot chili sauce you’d normally pour on your shrimp cocktail with as much horseradish as you can take, add a splash of lemon juice and some finely minced sweet onion, and pour some on your iceberg wedge. Ooh la la!

* Take a Mediterranean cruise. Maybe a trip to Greece or Sicily is beyond your budget, but a Mediterraean-inspired wedge salad is well within reach. Use crumbled feta instead of blue cheese on your wedge, add some fresh thyme, chop green and kalamata olives very fine and add them, and top each wedge with extra-virgin olive oil and a splash of balsamic vinegar.

There are plenty of other options; these are just meant to get you started. And hey, if you love a wedge salad just as it was originally intended, keep that high-fiber benefit in mind and ignore the snooty critics who demand mushy spring greens. To each his own!

‘Til next time,

Silence

The perfect Thanksgiving salad. November 16, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. As every cook knows, Thanksgiving dinner is a rush. And not in a good way. You’re racing like a thoroughbred in the Derby, but while they only run for a couple of minutes, you’re zigging and zagging through the kitchen for hours. True, you can make some things ahead, like your cranberry sauce, roasted veggies, casseroles, and dressing. You can buy desserts and dinner rolls and hold them. But some things have to be made last-minute, and one of them is salad.

It takes me a good half-hour to make a yummy salad, combining greens and chopping all the veggies, adding nuts or pepitas (roasted pumpkinseeds) and shredded or crumbled cheese, dicing apples or pears and sprinkling on golden raisins if I go that route or mixed olives if I don’t, adding herbs, making a quick, delicious dressing. Normally, I don’t mind: I’ll make the salad while the pasta water comes to a boil or the veggies cook or whatever, while I’d be standing around in the kitchen anyway.

But that’s not the case on Thanksgiving. The last thing I have time for is spending a half-hour making a salad while I’m trying to pull Thanksgiving dinner together. But fortunately, there’s a can’t-miss salad that you can put together in less than five minutes, and it’s so luscious that it might be the dish your family and friends can’t stop talking about after the meal. It’s the Wedge.

The Wedge is a retro salad. It’s based on a wedge of—gasp!!!—iceberg lettuce. Its return to fame began in steakhouses and has spread like wildfire. Iceberg lettuce has been dissed by chefs, nutritionists and foodies for decades as the salad equivalent of white balloon bread (think squishy Wonder bread). And it’s certainly true that iceberg can’t compete for flavor with arugula, radicchio, frisee, mustard greens, kale, and the like. It also can’t compete for nutritive value with darker greens like spinach, Romaine, or, say, a mesclun mix. Nutritionists are correct when they note that iceberg is lacking in vitamins. But they always fail to point out that iceberg is high in fiber.

If you happen to be eating a Thanksgiving spread including broccoli or green beans, sweet potatoes, some form of corn, and cranberries, you’ll be getting plenty of vitamins. Fiber-rich iceberg lettuce is exactly what you need to top off your meal. And you’ll be getting the flavor and nutritional goodness of onions, tomatoes, and blue cheese on top of it.

Making a Wedge couldn’t be easier. Take a head of iceberg lettuce, wash it, dry it, and then cut it in wedges. I’ve been served whole fourths to thirds of a head of iceberg when ordering the Wedge at restaurants, far more than anyone could eat. I suggest that you cut a head in sixths. Put each iceberg wedge on a salad plate, add diced red onion, followed by sliced cherry and/or grape tomatoes (I like to mix yellow, orange and red tomatoes for drama and flavor).

To finish the salad, crumble blue cheese over the lettuce wedge. Grind on fresh-cracked black pepper. In every restaurant where I’ve ordered a Wedge, it’s come with blue cheese dressing over the crumbled blue cheese. I myself prefer extra-virgin olive oil and a little fresh-squeezed lemon juice over the crumbled cheese, but it’s your choice. Some restaurants add crumbled bacon as well; as a vegetarian, I obviously skip that part, but your guests might find it rave-worthy.

That’s all there is to it. You cut iceberg wedges, add onion, tomato, blue cheese, and (if you want) bacon, pour on some dressing, the end. Your guests get a luscious, crunchy, creamy, flavorful salad. Retro chic and super easy. Serve with hot, soft breadsticks and dipping sauce or hand around the hot dinner rolls and butter, and your Thanksgiving dinner will be the talk of the town.

                ‘Til next time,

                           Silence

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