Making Iceberg Lettuce Delicious: Braise It!

Braised Iceburg Lettuce 2

This summer I have been getting an iceberg lettuce every week in my co-op box and frankly I am a little bored of them.   Nothing conjures up an image of an 1970’s salad more than an iceberg.     Add some pale watery tomatoes, celery and chunks of cucumber and a good dollop of salad cream and you have something straight out of the canteen of my 1970’s primary school in the middle of Kent.

I recently read an article by Mark Bittman on The Charms of the Loser Lettuces.  I was struck by a comment on one of the recipes, which pointed out that if icebergs were not so long lasting and virtually indestructible, they would not be so loved by supermarket buyers and thus available so cheaply and easily.  The rare and scare (and expensive?) iceberg would probably popular with certain groups of foodies.   I hope that my tastebuds are not solely governed by rarity value and cost, but I am sure that there are some foods out there that are more popular because of their rarity rather than the merits of their flavour alone.

But back to the humble iceberg, its hardiness and crispness make it ideal to cook, it softens, but retains some shape and texture not turning to mush.    In fact it actually tastes pretty darned good – I would even venture to say it is delicious!   It is buttery, nutty and subtly bitter.  Add to that almost fat free, low calorie,  cheap, easy to prepare (using only one pot)  and satisfying and I have a winner.        For the more ravenous, serve it as a starter – I would even produce this at a dinner party.

This is another contribution to my series of easy, economical and healthy recipes of what to do with the contents of the co-op “boxes” for the Food Co-ops and Buying Groups project run by Sustain – also part of the Making Local Food Work programme funded by the Big Lottery.

Braised Iceberg Lettuce (Serves 4)

1 Iceberg lettuce
Glug olive oil
1/2 mug vegetable stock (I used Marigold)
Handful frozen peas
Salt & Pepper (to taste)
Soy Sauce (to taste)

Cut the lettuce into quarters (through the stem so each segment stays together).  Add the oil to a casserole dish and fry the lettuce on all sides until it is starting to turn brown.   Add about 1.5cm / 1/2″ stock to the dish, put the lid on and turn the heat right down.   Simmer for about 15 mins, add the frozen peas, (here I left the lid ajar to concentrate the juices) and cook for a further 5 minutes.    Season with salt and pepper and serve.

This recipe is also delicious with a dash of soy sauce.     For a more substantial dish use more peas or serve with some crusty bread.    I imagine that you could also steam a piece of fish over the lettuce too.

Braised Iceburg Lettuce

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  1. says

    Hi Helen – not unlike a classic French bistro dish – lettuce heart braised in butter and white wine with peas and broad beans – which I adore. People are always so surprised that you can cook lettuce! I’ll bet your version is lovely with rice noodles (soy – genius).

  2. says

    No 70s salad would be complete without some chunks of tasteless low-fat cheese!

    I must admit I’m not a great fan of the iceberg, but it can go quite well in burgers and burritos, next to cooked things where it retains its crispness better than other kinds of lettuce that just tend to wilt and go stringy, threatening to dismantle the whole burger as you tug them out with your teeth.

  3. says

    I love icebergs but once a week would challenge me – I shred it into a Mexican salad or tacos but my aim is to try a lettuce risotto – found a recipe for this ages ago but have not been brave enough.

    I always find the word braise puts me off dishes – just doesn’t seem right to me but I am sure if I could get over this silly prejudice I would love your lettuce dish

  4. says

    I’m a big fan of iceberg, but mainly for added texture in a meal (like mentioned above, burgers, tacos, etc…). There’s a small Japanese restaurant in Brighton that does a mean rice and tofu dish, and they use a few thin slivers of iceberg in the mix. I never thought much of the idea of cooked lettuce, but it’s probably my favourite component of the bowl! I definitely must try braising it myself at home, though I suspect my partner will give me a dirty look and turn to toast. Oh well, more for me!

  5. says

    I’ve never braised it on its own but this sounds really good! I love iceberg or even romaine cooked in a risotto as think it adds a lovely crunch and flavour, needn’t just be confined to salad! :)

  6. says

    I used to make lettuce soup when I had a surfeit of lettuces which always tasted really good. Can’t seem to grow them these days, so no danger of too many of those. I have been reading quite a lot about how delicious they are grilled!


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