Since I moved to the Washington, DC area, I’ve been invited to join a couple of cooking groups. This is a new thing for me. I’ve never been involved in a cooking group before, and now I’m in two! One of the groups is composed of international members; I have the honor of being the only American. When I first joined I was told that, while it is not a requirement, it’s sort of expected that members will present foods from their home country.
Well I loved that idea. My mind dashed all over the map with great American foods: mac and cheese from the blue box, hamburger sliders, s’mores for dessert, or maybe a colorful Jello mold studded with candied cherries! After a few weeks of playing around with my menu, one of the dishes I settled on was a wedge of iceberg lettuce salad. I consider this an American Classic, a popular menu item of the 1950s and 60s, that is enjoying a resurgence, particularly on steakhouse restaurant menus today.
I gathered the best ingredients I could find for my salad, including organic iceberg lettuce. (Yes, it does exist!) I bought cultured buttermilk, blue cheese, and bacon from my friend, Susan, of Stonyman Gourmet Farmer, and fragrant, locally grown tomatoes at a local farm market. Then I got down to the fun business of developing and testing my recipe.
MM is always one of my most enthusiastic recipe testers, and he was right there with me on this one. A sign of the times: he’d never had a salad served in our home composed of iceberg lettuce! In my childhood, of course, that was THE lettuce for salads. But to MM it was a revelation: “So crisp and delicious!” I knew I was onto something for my gourmet group menu.
Here’s the salad that I served to the group later that week. I’m pleased to say it was a hit.
Wedge of Iceberg Lettuce with Buttermilk Dressing
Ingredients for Salad:
1 head iceberg lettuce, washed and cut into quarters or sixths
2 strips of good quality bacon, cooked crisp, crumbled
6-8 cherry type tomatoes, halved (can substitute any available flavorful tomato, diced)
3 ounces good quality blue cheese, crumbled
2 tablespoons minced chives
Ingredients for Buttermilk Dressing (makes 1 cup):
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly cracked black pepper
Choose your herbs*:
1-2 tablespoons fresh basil, cut in a chiffonade**
1-2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely minced
1-2 tablespoons fresh dill, minced
1-2 tablespoons fresh tarragon, minced
1-2 tablespoons fresh mint, minced
Directions for Salad:
Take a clean dishcloth or towel and place the minced shallots in a small pile on the cloth. Wrap the cloth around the shallots making a little ball. Squeeze the cloth tightly around the shallots until the cloth is wet and your have squeezed some of the juice out of the shallots. By doing this you’re removing some of the bitter juice from the raw shallots.
Place the squeezed shallots in a cup or other small container. Add the vinegar and salt. Stir to dissolve the salt in the vinegar. If you’re using dried herbs, add them now. Allow the shallots to sit in the vinegar for 15 minutes or more to allow the flavor of the shallots to permeate the vinegar.
Directions for Dressing:
Meanwhile, combine the buttermilk, sour cream, and mayonnaise in a bowl. Whisk the mixture well, until it is smooth.
Add the vinegar solution and freshly cracked pepper. Stir in the fresh herb(s) of your choice. Combinations I like include parsley and basil, tarragon and chives, dill and mint, or basil and mint. Additionally, if you prefer to have a blue cheese dressing, stir the blue cheese directly into the dressing before you put it on the salad. Correct the dressing with salt and pepper as needed.
To serve, place a wedge of iceberg lettuce on a preferably chilled plate. Spoon a generous amount of dressing over the salad. Scatter the bacon, tomatoes, blue cheese, and finally the chives over the salad. Use more cracked pepper if desired. You will have dressing left over.
*Dry herbs can also be used. Substitute 1 teaspoon dry for 1 tablespoon fresh herbs. Add the dry herbs to the vinegar solution to refresh them and bring out their flavors before you add them to the creamy dressing.
**To chiffonnade means to pile the fresh basil leaves, one on top of another, Then roll them up in a cigar-like fashion. Cut them finely, across the cigar shape. You will have thin strips of basil to add to your dressing.