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The maligned iceberg lettuce

I feel bad for iceberg lettuce. It gets such bad press! A lot of people suggest that it's watery, flavourless and pointless.

Personally, I love it! It's a perfect salad leaf, in that it's crunchy and robust enough to hold a decent dressing and soft enough to nestle down into the salad bowl properly. The little folds and wrinkles hold delicious pockets of dressing, a whole leaf can make a fresh and crispy wrap, a wedge makes a salad with a geometric fashion statement...not to mention the fact that it keeps for a long time in the fridge. And it has a cool name. What's not to like?!

My fave applications are thinly slivered as a chilled side to a bowl of chili, and diced into inch-thick chunks for a mustardy croutonny salad. Who else out there is a devoted fan of the iceberg? And if so, what do you love to do with it most?

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  1. I don't like it in salads at all (save for the wedge kind with blue cheese dressing), but it's fantastic stir-fried with oyster sauce.

    3 Replies
    1. re: linguafood

      I LOVE the sound of that!! with garlic or without?

      1. re: Elster

        As you wish. I'd add some garlic, as I do with most stir-frys. Maybe a tiny squeeze of lime at the end, but not necessary. Iceberg stir-fries really well!

        1. re: Elster

          Casual Chinese places quickly blanch iceberg lettuce and drizzle oyster sauce on top. It's a great way of using up iceberg lettuce that's otherwise past its prime and would be unfit for salad.

          You can also saute in the oyster sauce directly. No garlic necessary.

      2. Iceberg and homemade Roquefort dressing were made for each other. It's also my favorite lettuce to put on a sandwich. My mother's dinner salad was always chopped iceberg lettuce, diced tomatoes, and diced cucumbers, with Hellman's mayo for dressing, and lots of black pepper.

        1 Reply
        1. re: pikawicca

          I'll use different greens for sandwiches but for a BLT or BLAT, iceberg is a must-have.

        2. Can be subbed in recipes for cooked or wilted spinach.

          Shredded iceburg is a requirement for me when I make a Juicy Lucy or dressed hamburger. 1/3 lb each such as I had last night.:-)

          1. I like lettuce wraps. I like it on burgers too.

            1. While it's not my favorite salad lettuce, except for the oft mentioned wedge w Roquefort dressing - my version being w Gorgonzolla - it does have it's place on the table. It's awfully good shredded and used in tacos, braised lettuce & peas, and stir-fries...

              1 Reply
              1. re: Gio

                I have never made braised lettuce & peas, but now I want to.

                Thumbs up to Gio and Khan for the nod to tacos...iceberg is *it* for tacos.

                Sorta unrelatedly, it's the least "scary" green to use when introducing young kids to salad. It's a nice, cool, crispy and neutral canvas.

              2. After consuming salad after salad based upon various boutique greens and lettuces (lettuci, lettucae?), it's always so refreshing to tear into one made from fresh, cold, crispy, hearty i-berg. It's really the best lettuce to pair with creamy dressings, IMO.

                And, yes, it's a must shredded on the traditional burger and the crispy ground beef taco.

                1. Iceberg holds it's shape and cruch nicely on a burger, and it pairs well with a thick slice of tomato and a crispy onion ring. Burgers are one place I don't want fancy greens.

                  1. It's my first choice for a BLT.

                    1. I am a devoted fan of iceberg lettuce! I look for very firm heads of lettuce so it stays in nice tight little chunks when its cut for a salad.

                      I love a wedge salad but most often I just chop the lettuce, mix with shredded carrots, cucumber, red cabbage and whatever else I might have on hand (roasted peppers, cauliflower). I generally like all the components cut small, like a chopped salad.

                      It is also my lettuce of choice on sandwiches and burgers or veggie burgers. Love the iceberg!

                      1. It really keeps for a long time in the fridge. I keep a head just to add a leaf to a sandwich.

                        1. I'm a fan of Iceberg lettuce! Mixed with other greens in a tossed salad, def. lettuce cups, BLT's, with Thousand Island dressing, and I like it stewed with onions, peppers and garlic as a hot dog topping sometimes.

                          1. Iceberg is my preferred lettuce of choice. I enjoy it in salads and sandwiches and definitely shredded up in crunchy tacos. I often prefer it over green leaf lettuce in Vietnamese noodle bowls.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: seamunky

                              Deffo on sandwiches. I love shredded i-berg on a fried flounder sandwich with tartar sauce, and I like it on an Italian sub.

                            2. My mother's favourite vintage salad... from a cafe in Winston Salem circa 1965.

                              Chiffonade lettuce, one leaf at a time.
                              Drop into a bowl of lightly salted water with lots of Crushed Ice.
                              Tong-out and shake free of water just enough lettuce to make a small mound on a chilled salad plate. A few ice crystals may remain.
                              Serve with a thick Thousand Island with 1 drop of Tabasco mixed in per 1/4 cup of dressing.

                              1. You can't chiffonade green leaf lettuce.

                                6 Replies
                                1. re: Querencia

                                  Um.... alright.
                                  Your technique for chiffonade, please?

                                  EDIT: Just found these pics:

                                      1. re: Gio

                                        GIO -- I thought we were all discussing iceberg.

                                        And, quite frankly, I could chiffonade green leaf, also. One leaf at a time.

                                        1. re: Kris in Beijing

                                          Hi Kris.. we ^are^ discussing Iceberg but it's not the same as Green Leaf.. and, yes, I can chiffonade green leaf too... no need to chiffonade one leaf at a time. Stack the leaves carefully, roll them up like a cigar, slice as thinly as you can.

                                          1. re: Gio

                                            No need to get so pedantic. The post was a "vintage" recipe, not something from the Cordon Bleu. The recipe said "lettuce", by the way, not green leaf or iceburg. One leaf at a time, or twenty at a time - who cares? My bet is that this recipe from a cafe in Winston Salem was written to make the "salad" sound like more work that what it should heve been, and therefore more special.

                                    1. Oh I also like it chopped up very finely with spring onions, sometimes lemon zest, and parsley, and then mounded onto the top of a green soup right at the point of serving. It's like a cool, springtime alternative to soup sprinkles like bacon bits or toasted coconut and adds a really good crisp juicy bite.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Elster

                                        This sounds great! Nice idea, Elster.

                                        1. re: ipsedixit

                                          The health guru said: 96% water to be exact according to the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture! (www.ca.uky.edu) Some people complain about not getting enough water or not liking to drink water…well, consuming iceberg lettuce is a great way to increase your intake of water!

                                          1. re: HillJ

                                            It was common in the Middle Ages (and probably before and after) to quench one's thirst with lettuce because the water might be bad. Of course they didn't understand that the lettuce itself didn't purify the water it took in …

                                            1. re: Will Owen

                                              I wasn't aware of that, Will. Interesting lettuce factoid!

                                          2. re: ipsedixit

                                            People are 70% water. So there's only 30% left to like. Or not like.

                                            1. re: Veggo

                                              Not the most logical argument I've heard in a while. Maybe if you 'splained....

                                          3. I didn't grow up on it. Decided to make the classic iceberg wedge with blue cheese dressing a couple of weeks ago and I just couldn't eat it.

                                            The lettuce was too sweet and I didn't enjoy it at all. My husband, who grew up on iceberg, was thrilled to have two wedges to eat. Never again.

                                              1. re: carolinadawg

                                                Yes, and the reason is "food snobbery".

                                                Jacques Pepin likes it. So does Barbara Kafka, who has an impassioned -- and hilarious -- defense of iceberg in her magisterial "Vegetable Love."

                                              2. Love it! Salads - nice and crunchy with cold iceberg, wedges, grilled, on burgers, on sandwiches...

                                                I think it's mild flavor really works well to highlight other foods...

                                                1. I think James Beard gave the definitive defense of it. He said that if iceberg were difficult to grow, hard to ship, and really rare and expensive, it would be every gourmet's favorite. He of course adored it.

                                                  We've taken to keeping a head of it in the fridge - because we CAN - and treating ourselves to it dressed with either my buttermilk/mayo/Maytag blue dressing or good old Kraft Roka Blue. If we have some handy we might dress it up with cucumber or avocado. After a week of stir-fried greens and brown rice and tofu, although we really like those things, a supper of mac'n'cheese and an iceberg salad tastes mighty fine.

                                                  1. I love iceberg lettuce. It's the only lettuce I like in a taco salad and often mix it with other greens for added crunch in a salad. I also use it for sandwiches and burgers. It's also good for lettuce wraps. I don't view lettuce as contributing that much to my nutritional profile iceberg or not and given that I eat many hundreds of other foods with nutrition, there's no reason to not eat it. It always seemed a silly argument to me.

                                                    10 Replies
                                                    1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                      Agree completely. There are lots of salad greens I enjoy for other kinds of salads - I'll happily slice up a Belgian endive and just put oil, pepper and vinegar on it - but for THAT sort of salad, or as something to add lightness and crunch to a ham sandwich, iceberg can't be beat. Or as a bed for potato, mac or tuna salad. Lovely stuff, and if it takes you a while to think of something else to do with it, it'll wait.

                                                      1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                        Agree too. I don't eat lettuce for nutrition. It's more of a base for a salad (which has tons of other vegetables for nutrition) or for added crunch on a sandwich.

                                                        1. re: valerie

                                                          Absolutely. I don't like this idea that there's no point in eating anything that's nutritionally 'void' - as Michael Pollan points out, there are multiple reasons humans eat, and not just nourishment: pleasure, company, celebration (boredom)...

                                                          And besides, if you're going to avoid iceberg because of its lack of nutrients, where do you stand on cake? :P

                                                          1. re: Elster

                                                            A well-made point. Further, this whole idea that iceberg is of no nutrient value is silly. It is true that it has fewer nutrients than other, darker, green leafy things. So what? It's still packed with a wide array of vitamins and minerals, and is one of the better sources of vitamin K.

                                                            Coffee and tea have far, far less nutritional value, but I don't see a lot of 'hounds spurning them in favor of milk.

                                                            1. re: DuffyH

                                                              I wouldn't say packed... You would need to eat around 15 lbs a day to get you rda of what it does contain.

                                                              1. re: JMF

                                                                I rarely look to a single food for all of my nutritional needs in a day.

                                                                According to the link you provided, a serving of iceberg provides 22% RDA of vitamin K with 10 calories. And on a hot day like today, that cup of shredded iceberg lettuce would be pretty refreshing.

                                                                And...let's say it was void of nutrients (it's not). One cup shredded for 10 calories? Eat up, iceberg lettuce lovers.

                                                                1. re: debbiel

                                                                  Hey, I like iceberg lettuce. but pointing out that it has vitamin k... that's all it does have. any other nutrients are mostly in the 1-2% rda.

                                                                2. re: JMF

                                                                  There are days when I could almost eat 15 pounds of iceberg, like right now- I haven't had it in a long time and I miss it. Crunchy, sweet, light, sometimes I'll eat a whole head cut into wedges with a little salt on it.

                                                                  1. re: EWSflash

                                                                    That does it. I'm getting some tomorrow. Thank you.

                                                              2. re: Elster

                                                                The last time I stood on cake was at a bachelorette party. ;)

                                                          2. Prefer Romaine or mixed baby leaves in an all lettuce salad, but don't mind iceberg once in a while (esp. with creamy dressing). Chopped iceberg is great for the outer ring of Huevos Rancheros.

                                                            1. Iceberg lettuce was originally created as pig food as it could be stored and travel easily with a minimum of spoilage and was cheap and profitable to grow. It became acceptable with the creation of Thousand Island dressing and growers were doubly pleased to sell the lettuce to retailers for much better margins. (Sorry pigs.) Iceberg lettuce has virtually no nutritional value and does not digest well for humans. It may have been the original "junk food" second only to marsh mellows.

                                                              6 Replies
                                                              1. re: Leper

                                                                "A subvariety of the family of lettuces known as crisphead (the other main types of lettuces are looseleaf, butterhead, and romaine), iceberg was developed from a kind of loose and leafy head lettuce called batavia by the Philadelphia-based seed company W. Atlee Burpee & Co. in 1894. The new lettuce was an instant sensation: while other batavia-derived crisphead lettuces of the day also formed spherical heads, their leaves were greener and not nearly so crisp; a head of iceberg, by contrast, was pale in color, densely packed, and protected by unusually sturdy outer leaves."


                                                                1. re: Leper

                                                                  This seems unlikely - pigs would need a lot of calories and roughage in their diet to be worth farming at all so iceberg lettuce seems like the least appropriate pig food, unless it was mixed with molasses and oats and turned into a kind of silage...

                                                                  1. re: Leper

                                                                    ha, marshmallows are my other guilty pleasure! interesting information.

                                                                    1. re: Leper

                                                                      "originally created as pig food" ... completely ironic if true, lol

                                                                      1. re: Leper

                                                                        Oh, NONSENSE.

                                                                        This is the kind of "reasoning" that gives foodies a bad name.

                                                                        And incidentally, it's "marshmallow.". Marsh Mellows might be people getting high in a wetland.

                                                                      2. What a lovely tribute. Lettuce think about it for a moment.

                                                                        My mother never let us have iceberg lettuce because she thought lacked nutrition. Therefore it became a forbidden fruit for me and I always liked it the best When I was younger. It is so crisp, mild, and refreshing. Not a hint of bitterness.

                                                                        I love it with ranch dressing. It reminds me of childhood, and specifically school cafeteria food, but in a good way. My favorite way to have it is with Chinese chicken or duck lettuce wraps stuffed with deep fried rice vermicelli and spread with hoisin sauce. The light crunchy lettuce cuts through the oiliness of the other ingredients without detracting from their flavor.

                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                        1. Love it in a wedge served with a creamy dressing. On a peanut butter sandwich, layered with lettuce, and a shake of salt.

                                                                          1. I like it, but only if it's cold and crisp. Okay in salads, and on burgers if hasn't gotten warm and started to wilt. If it's the slightest bit wilted it completely grosses me out. That little pile of shredded lettuce that Mexican restaurants seem to feel is necessary to add to the plate is the worst because it gets mixed into everything.

                                                                            2 Replies
                                                                            1. re: gmm

                                                                              I agree, I quite enjoy iceberg lettuce but it has to be cold and crisp. I usually leave it in the fridge until the last moment when I'm putting a dish together. Otherwise it loses the cold crunch that I like it for.

                                                                              1. re: gmm

                                                                                I'm also only fond of cold & crisp iceberg.

                                                                                "Hot side hot and cold side cold" --
                                                                                perhaps not the best burger in the world. but such a great marketing phrase that I ~still~ think about it.

                                                                              2. A 70's Prawn cocktail. H-E-A-V-E-N.

                                                                                1. I find iceberg a bit boring. That's not to say that it doesnt have its uses - although one of them isnt in my salad.

                                                                                  It's good as a wrap - say for Chinese style roast duck. Havnt done this dish in some while but I dunk the leaves in boiling water to soften a little and then fill them with cooked minced beef and rice (seasonings as you wish), before baking them for 20 minutes.

                                                                                  1. I loved iceberg as a kid. Especially if it was served with half a canned peach or pear. During the winter it was a real treat because all the food was heavy and the peach salad dish was always cool and refreshing. I think it actually piqued my interest in healthy salads in general. I love it on liverwurst sandwiches.

                                                                                    1. I love organic iceberg, just bought some yesterday! I eat it with other veggies like crudite or mix it with other greens like dandelions to get the varied flavors and textures. Albeit, iceberg is less nutritious compared to other lettuces, the deeper the green usually the more nutrients.

                                                                                      1. I can't stand iceburg lettuce. I like lettuce to be green and flavorful. To me ..iceburg is just a filler.

                                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                                        1. re: BlueMagic

                                                                                          Funny, I find its flavor distinctive and delicious. But each person's taste settings vary from everyone else's. Mrs. O's sense of taste is much better than mine, but there's a white wine I love for its faint overtones of fragrant wood, and she doesn't taste that at all. Anyway, thanks for not eating all my lettuce …

                                                                                          1. I love it shredded very finely. In fact, it's really the only lettuce that can hold up to that preparation. I also love that it's a fraction of the cost of other lettuces and holds up about twice as long in the fridge. Another nice thing is you don't have to worry as much about it getting smashed when you are bagging your groceries and bringing them home.

                                                                                            1. Shredded and piled high on a cold cut grinder with a generous amount of olive oil.

                                                                                              1. Love it....crispy and cooling. The vein isn't tough or very hard, like some other leaves. I am also grateful for it-being it was the first type of lettuce introduced to me as a kid. If it wasn't for iceberg, I may have never been inclined to try other greens-or veggies! Thank you, iceberg!

                                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                                1. If I am going to eat something which is not healthy, it dang well better be deep-fried or chocolate!

                                                                                                  7 Replies
                                                                                                  1. re: mwhitmore

                                                                                                    At the Texas State Fair, there's a food purveyor who deep fries an entire head of i-berg, dunks it in dark chocolate, and impales it with a popsicle stick.

                                                                                                        1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                                                          It's a complete waste of chocolate!!

                                                                                                      1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                                                        On a popsicle stick? That's awful. Everyone knows a cone is much better. ;-)

                                                                                                        1. re: Antilope

                                                                                                          Actually, it may be some ol' stobs that picks up offen the ground.

                                                                                                    1. I like to rip out a chunk and pop it in my mouth without dressing.

                                                                                                      1. i adore veined cheeses.
                                                                                                        when using a veined cheese in a salad, iceberg is my go-to lettuce.

                                                                                                        1. Iceberg is always in my fridge. As others have noted, it can't be beat for tacos and sandwiches. With it's long shelf life, I know I always have fresh greens for a salad. Along with romaine, it's my go-to green. It is so versatile and certainly not flavorless.

                                                                                                          I LOVE the resurgence of the wedge salad. I get a real giggle out of it. As a kid growing up in SoCal in the 60's-70's, we often went to Bob's Big Boy, home of the humungous burger. It was inexpensive, and Bob had a combo plate. Burger, fries and salad. The salad was... wait for it... a wedge! It was a nothing salad, just sitting on the side of the dinner plate with it's heap of dressing, and I thought really lazy. It's too much trouble to chop the lettuce? Really?

                                                                                                          Now it's trendy. Who knew that Bob's Big Boy was so far ahead of the curve? :)

                                                                                                          2 Replies
                                                                                                          1. re: DuffyH

                                                                                                            I really thought the wedge was just that... a wedge with dressing, but looking at the google photos, people load them up with bacon and tomato, and sometimes onions.

                                                                                                            1. re: GraydonCarter

                                                                                                              That sounds like it would be too hard to eat without scattering stuff all over. Kind of like eating grapefruit halved with a spoon instead of in wedges like mother nature intended.

                                                                                                          2. Out of curiosity (as in reaction to) I made a simple salad this weekend for party guests that consisted on Iceberg, spinach leaves and sliced cucumbers (and sliced tomatoes on a separate plate because some of our guests don't enjoy them).

                                                                                                            Gone. gone. gone. We have a winner.

                                                                                                            1. I don't care for it in salads but love it on many sandwiches.

                                                                                                              I remember during tough-ish times growing up, the "sweet" in my packed school lunch was iceberg lettuce in a bag with some sugar water. Not sure how mom came up with that. I was of course horrified (other kids had twinkles!), but I actually kind of liked it.

                                                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                                                              1. re: debbiel

                                                                                                                We are planting iceberg lettuce in two weeks so I was digging around for ideas...I didn't expect to find emotion. Your comment brought tears to my eyes. I am going to try this as a testament to the awesome person who packed your lunch and to you for liking it!

                                                                                                              2. I like iceberg, and romaine. The other lettuces just seem a bit soft and wimpy as to texture.

                                                                                                                Since I was a kid I would fry up chop beef with sot, toasted sesame, and anything else "Asian" I had on hand, and then spoon it into iceberg lettuce and eat out of hand.

                                                                                                                1. My older Chinese and Cantonese cookbooks (80s) have a wide variety of recipes using iceburg lettuce. I am reading before purging.

                                                                                                                  8 Replies
                                                                                                                  1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                                                                                                                    One of our local Sichuan places makes a lovely stir-fry with oyster sauce.

                                                                                                                    1. re: linguafood


                                                                                                                      A local shanghainese lady stirfries hers with oyster sauce and garlic. its surprisingly deliciousness, especially when cooked so that there is just a little bit of crunch left.

                                                                                                                    2. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                                                                                                                      I recently had part of a head of iceburg left from BLTs that was getting a bit long in the tooth. Threw it into a stirfry. Just fine. No, it's not exciting but at least I wasn't throwing it in the trash

                                                                                                                      1. re: c oliver

                                                                                                                        'Sunday Diner' at a dusty little restaurant in the middle of Saskatchewan on a secondary hwy.
                                                                                                                        If you know the Prairies you know many farm families 'gather at local restaurants once a week so Ma and Grandma don't have to cook.
                                                                                                                        There was a 'smorg'. Lining the bottom of the smorg table was ice berg lettuce the serving trays sat on. We ordered from the menu and asked for a couple of small side salads. The waitress acted like she had no idea what a 'side salad' was. NOBODY on Prairie farms eats salads (exaggeration). The waitress goes into the kitchen and comes out with two soup bowls. Over to the 'smorg'. Grabs a handful of the iceberg lettuce and plunks it into the soup bowls. Over to our table. Plunks the bowls down. No salad dressing.
                                                                                                                        The farm families were staring at us like we were about to eat poplar leaves.

                                                                                                                        1. re: Puffin3

                                                                                                                          Truly snorting coffee! I don't know the Prairies but you just painted a pretty good mini-pix :)

                                                                                                                          1. re: Puffin3

                                                                                                                            Good story. My image of the Prairie farms in Saskatchewan came from a visitor from there in Mexico. He described when his dog ran away, and 2 days later he could still see him running.

                                                                                                                            1. re: Veggo

                                                                                                                              That's the same advantage to living in North Dakota. If your kid runs away, you can keep an eye on him for several days before you go to get him back.

                                                                                                                        2. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                                                                                                                          The Chinese word for lettuce is "saang choi" which sounds like the word for "growing money". It's a homophone for fortune and it symbolizes prosperity. Both Fuchsia Dunlop and Grace Young have recipes for stir-fried Iceberg or Romaine and they're are wonderful in this application.

                                                                                                                        3. "A lot of people suggest that it's watery, flavourless and pointless."

                                                                                                                          Your point? Is it not?

                                                                                                                          On a positive side - it does have crunch.

                                                                                                                          1. I have a tortoise so we don't buy Iceberg often because it is harmful to give to the tortoise and I get worried its going to get mixed up with the other lettuce.

                                                                                                                            But there is one thing I find Iceberg is good for. Lettuce Wraps. It's just the perfect bowl shape and it's leaves are sturdy enough to hold the filling.

                                                                                                                            1. I used to scoff at iceberg lettuce, until one showed up in my CSA box this spring. I try to avoid wasting any CSA items, so I used it for a salad with romaine. It was surprisingly good! It was mild, but not tasteless, and it had a pleasant crunch. I would not make a salad entirely of iceberg if other lettuce was available, but the mild, fresh taste nicely balances more strongly flavored ingredients. I think of it like the lettuce analog of muenster cheese in a ham sandwich, adding a mild, slightly salty, cheesy addition to balance the meat and mustard.

                                                                                                                              1. "Who else out there is a devoted fan of the iceberg? And if so, what do you love to do with it most?"


                                                                                                                                Crab Louie