Lettuce thinks it’s so great.
Lettuce thinks it deserves an invitation to every table and a throne on every dish.
Lettuce thinks it out-ranks all other leafy greens, and believes itself manifestly superior to those humble, but hard-working, species of produce that dangle, or flower, or burrow in the earth, or recline on the vine.
Salad plates? That was lettuce’s idea.
That grossly inflated self-image is distasteful, certainly, but understandable. Lettuce is, after all, the most vain of vegetables, and recieves constant, unhealthy re-enforcement from large, entrenched and unreasoning culinary factions more interested in form than function. And never was a sterling reputation so utterly without foundation.
The Emperor has no clothes.
Were the truth known, lettuce has for too long been standing in the warm light of admiration more rightly occupied by a valiant victual of impressive attainments, proven character and unquestioned merit, and that’s an injustice I mean to correct. I’m talking about that hardy herbaceous biennial of the Family Brassicaceae; that compact cluster derived from the wild mustard plant and beloved of the ancient Celts; that noble crop that Cato the Elder in his wisdom praised as “the first of all the vegetables.”
In the realm of edible foliage, Cabbage wears the crown.
I don’t hate lettuce. Oh, it’s fine as a bed for something battered and deep-fried, or piled on a slice of rye with bacon, tomato and mayonnaise. But it’s no cabbage. It’s a fop, a popinjay, a proud face on a craven heart. It’s all trailer and no feature presentation.
Lettuce has no flavor, unless apathy is a flavor. The leaves of aspen, birch, or People Magazine would make a more favorable first impression. Lettuce is the only substance bland enough to make raspberry vinaigrette seem interesting.
Cabbage introduces itself with a firm handshake and even gaze. A little sweet, a little nutty, and with just a hint of menace, cabbage greets the tongue without flinching and won’t be intimidated by garlic and oregano.
Lettuce has the French knack for folding when the going gets tough. Put lettuce anywhere near a knife and it immediately turns coward-brown and begins losing its composure. It has a Pheonix sunbird’s delicate internal thermostat, only with the dial reversed. Just watch it as it turns limp and listless and whiny at the slightest breath of temperate atmosphere. An hour at room temperature transforms even the crispest of that class into an unappetizing sludge the most famished and least critical gerbil can’t abide.
Not so cabbage.
Cabbage is a matador – brash, resolute, self-assured, and fearless in its purpose. It gives respect to the diner, and demands it in return. Slice it, dice it, chop it fine or shred it into confetti, cabbage will hold its ground, stay the course, keep the faith. A week in the refrigerator soaking in a zesty cream dressing won’t break cabbage’s will, nor dull its satisfying crunch. If cabbage could talk it would say please-sir-may-I-have-another.
Besides lackluster service as that most uninspired of sides, the dinner salad, or lending unnecessary bulk to pedestrian hand-foods – taking up valuable taco real estate better occupied by smoked and seasoned pollo, for instance – lettuce is good for exactly nothing. It’s a two-trick pony, and neither of them are fun or surprising.
Cabbage is the most versatile of viands. It makes a better, livelier salad than lettuce could ever hope to, and that’s just the tip of the, er, iceberg. Steamed and bathed in butter it’s a party in your mouth. Coarsely-chopped cabbage adds gumption to soups and stews, and when finely-chopped supplies nutritious heft to any sauce or casserole. Shredded and pickled it’s matchless on a brat or other wurst. Shredded and fried it’s the soul of pork fried rice and egg rolls. Speaking of rolls, try wrapping rice and ground lamb up in tidy shroud of lettuce sometime.
You won’t try it twice.
Determined lettuce-boosters will hope to dazzle you with a description of their favorite leaf’s nutritional attributes. True, lettuce contains many ingredients compatible with a healthy diet. Just not as many as – anyone?… anyone? – no, sorry; the correct answer was “cabbage.”
Not only does cabbage contain more essential calories and protein – the precious fuels of life – it’s got nearly twice the fiber of lettuce and less than half the unsaturated fats. In addition, cabbage is an excellent source of vitamin C, and a single cup supplies about two-thirds the recommended daily allowance of Nature’s unsung hero, vitamin K. Add to that a generous periodic-table’s-worth of vigor-inducing minerals like iron, calcium and potassium, and a body might well sustain on little but cabbage and water.
And how sweet would that be?
But maybe you’re not into awesome nutrition. Maybe you’re the kind of Narcissistic mule who cares only for food’s superficial qualities. Lettuce, if you’d like to know, comes in unimaginative varieties like “Romaine”, “Looseleaf”, “Red”, and – God help us – “Arugula”. Cabbage, on the other hand, strides boldly onto the menu under proud and historic banners such as “Late Flat Dutch”, “Early Jersey Wakefield”, “Danish Ballhead” and “Savory.” What’s in a name? Good eating, that’s what.
Incredibly, even in this age of dwindling energy resources there will be unrepentant lettuce lovers who discountenance and malign cabbage’s remarkable ability to fabricate combustible gold within our very bowels. On the contrary, besides its potential to power a brighter future for all races and peoples, I consider that rare and wonderful capacity to be cabbage’s most cherished gift.
The gift of music.
Don’t be blue, Pumpkin. Lettuce had a good run, but it’s time for iceberg to slip back under the waves and surrender the succulent seas to one far more scrumptious. Cabbage is the new sovereign of the supper table, the fresh and feisty prince of the popular palate.
The King is dead.
Long live the King.