Among all the food magazines on the newsstands, Saveur
continues to be one of our very favorites. More than any other magazine it seems to capture the ways that food touches on every part of cultural experience. The most recent issue, #120, has a lot to recommend it, but one of the best parts is a vigorous and charming defense of that much-maligned, purportedly tasteless, odorless, meritless vegetable: iceberg lettuce. Why you should read it:
Irene Sax writes a short history of iceberg lettuce and its rise and fall in American food culture: the phenomenally successful breed that let it be shipped cross-country and stay crispy; the much prized white leaves; the invention of the Cobb Salad. Iceberg lettuce before mesclun, endive and arugula. Then the dismissal of this watery, crispy lettuce as "empty of vitamins" (not actually true) and its subsequent fall from grace in American cooking.
But whereas Americans stopped eating iceberg lettuce so much, Asian cooks picked it up. It's a wonderful foil, says Sax, for some of the hot and spicy cooking of Vietnam and China, where it's even stir-fried on its own. (One of our favorite Asian-style dishes!) It's a milder substitute for cabbage and its firm structure is wonderful for wrapping ground meat.
Overall it's a fascinating snapshot of American agriculture, the rise and fall of a particular produce variety, and a fresh look at an often-dismissed vegetable that is actually quite delicious under the right circumstances.
Where you can read it: The Ice Queen at Saveur. Make sure you also read the tips and recipes that accompany the article, and if you have a chance, really read this one in the magazine itself.
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Related: 12 Crunchy Spring Salads from Saveur
(Images: James Oseland/Andre Baranowski)