Think for a moment about the salads of your youth…
Whether you poured on the blue cheese dressing or preferred a vinaigrette, odds were pretty good that the primary salad dressing vehicle in your bowl was crisp, iceberg lettuce.
With the popularity of “spring mix” and the increased marketing of specialty greens such as arugula, baby spinach & frisee, what was once a staple in salads across America has come to be about as fashionable in food circles as green Jello-molds studded with mini-marshmallows & fruit salad.
Well, I would like to come to the defense of Iceberg Lettuce. I can’t remember the last time I bought a head of iceberg lettuce before this week. My favorite fruit vendor had organic strawberries, for $1 per quart, and I immediately thought of my favorite Strawberry & Cilantro Salad w Fresh Lemon Dressing. That recipe calls for romaine hearts, but my vendor didn’t have any. Rather than making another stop on my way home, I decided to buy a head of iceberg lettuce instead, mentally turning my nose up a little bit as I did so.
Things don’t become ubiquitous in the marketplace
without a good reason, and that brings me to why this salad is the perfect spring salad.
We are used to seeing produce on the shelves year round, strawberries and lettuce in December, apples in April, grapefruit in August. It is easy to forget that fruits and vegetables even have seasons.
It turns out that iceberg lettuce too has a season.
Iceberg lettuce is a cool weather crop with a long growing season. This means that crops that were planted in California and Florida last fall, as coming into season now.
At its worst, a leaf of iceberg lettuce can be faintly stale tasting, limp, with a texture like a thin piece of styrofoam.
At its best, however, iceberg lettuce is sublime. The outer-leaves are crisp and watery, acting as a cool crisp foil for the other flavors in the salad. The inner-leaves have a tender crunch and a silky texture, and just a hint of bitter-sweetness.
This is the time of year to find iceberg lettuce at its best. Unlike the loose rubbery heads of lettuce you find all winter, the iceberg lettuce in the stores right now feels as dense as a head of cabbage and almost as heavy.
So, in a case of synchronicity, this most iconic of all lettuces is coming into season now, along the with strawberries that it so perfectly compliments in this addictive spring salad recipe.
Strawberry & Cilantro Salad w Fresh Lemon Dressing & Iceberg Lettuce:
Serves: 2-4, Time: 10 min
- one half head Iceberg lettuce
- one half bunch cilantro
- one stalk celery
- one pint strawberries
For the fresh lemon salad dressing recipe
- one large lemon (Choose lemons that are round rather than long. They tend to have thinner skins and be juicier.)
- two cloves garlic OR one half teaspoon garlic powder (Trust me, purists will howl, but garlic powder works just fine.)
- two Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- one half teaspoon salt
- two teaspoons sugar (You can substitute Agave syrup, honey, etc.. if you wish. I use sugar for this recipe because it doesn’t compete with the delicate flavors of the salad.)
Optional, but delicious, variation:
For a salad that is still light with has a heartier, earthier note, substitute one Tablespoon vegetable oil and one Tablespoon toasted sesame oil for the olive oil in the dressing. Then garnish with toasted pecans and crumbled cheese.*
- toasted pecans – (Spread on baking sheet – place in 350 degree oven for approximately 5 min or until you the nuts natural oils start to sizzle. Keep an eye on them. Nuts burn quickly.)
- crumbled blue cheese
- crumbled goat cheese
*Do not add the cheese if you want to keep this vegetarian recipe suitable for vegan palates
First, prepare your dressing:
Locate a small jar with a lid.
Roll the lemon on the counter to loosen the juices inside the lemon.
Hold the lemon over the jar to catch the initial spurt of juices, and cut a slit in the side.
Gently squeeze to release the juices freed during the rolling process and then cut the lemon in half.
Finish juicing the lemon using a fork or reamer, and pick out the seeds.
If you are using fresh garlic, either push it through a garlic press or crush it into a paste with the salt.
Add the garlic powder or garlic, salt, oil and sugar to the jar.
Shake vigorously until the salad dressing emulsifies (about 20 seconds).
Adjust the salt/sweet ratio to your liking. Let stand while you prepare your salad.
Cut the iceberg lettuce into bite sized pieces and add it to the bowl. I like to cut my iceberg lettuce into cubes and then break apart the chunks made of the pale yellow, slightly waxy heart leaves all crumpled tightly together.
Rinse the cilantro to remove any lingering sand and either pluck off the individual leaves or COARSELY chop the part above the bare stems . (It is important not to chop the cilantro too finely, or you will loose the burst of flavor that is released when you bite into a leaf.) You should end up with a half cup of loosely packed cilantro leaves which you then sprinkle on top of the lettuce.
Rinse and remove the tops from the strawberries and cut them into quarters and add them to the bowl.
Give the salad dressing a good shake to mix it up again and pour approximately half of the jar’s contents over your salad.
Stir the salad until it is evenly coated, then taste the salad and adjust the dressing to your liking. I like this salad dressed very lightly, just enough to coat each piece with no dressing pooling at the bottom of the bowl.
Divide into two salad bowls enjoy.