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Lettuce drawing

Lettuce title image

In my youth I was a vegan. It was not the philosophy of abstaining from the use of animal products and an idea that rejects the commodity status of sentient animals. I disliked meat and found refuge in the leaves of a lettuce or the sweetness of a young carrot. At one of my army posts somewhere in the Dead Sea on the hostile border of Israel with Jordan a newsletter reported on my arrival back in camp, "Dan returned and we sent him immediately to the lettuce garden where he hopefully would find his happiness."

My army days, however, did not leave me with preferred choices. And as my commanding officer shouted on one day: "You eat what we give you, or you die." Soldiers, I remembered, do not die over lettuce. They die in battles. And I was a soldier then and thought it would be better if I surrender to his logic.

I love lettuce, especially the iceberg, which is round and soft and delicate. I love slicing it into long strips and mix it in a salad with tomatoes and cucumbers and red radishes and minced carrots and sliced rings of white onion and nuts and sometimes feta. The iceberg lettuce does not impose its presence on any of the other partners in the salad. It has little flavour and just complements the rest of the participants.

A popular Western way to serve it is sliced into a wedge and covered with blue cheese dressing. But that is like killing the green vegetable because the cheese is destined to take over due to its strong flavours, characteristic taste and special scent.

But in my China, steamed iceberg lettuce is a dish of its own. A humble, unpretentious, shy and almost modest serving, yet as stunning as a woman in her best. It is a warm dish that maintains the slightly crispy disposition of the lettuce and brings a taste that soothes and delights. And it is served along with other vegetable and main dishes.

I believe that this creation makes my lettuce the champagne of your greens. And although my army days are gone I will keep the battle going - for the lettuce.

Dan Ben-Canaan
Harbin China

Steamed iceberg lettuce - Chinese style

round iceberg lettuce head
1½ tsp light soy sauce
1½ tsp sesame oil
1¼ tsp Shao Hsing rice wine or
     dry sherry, or red vinegar
¾ tsp sugar
¼ tsp freshly ground white pepper
3½ tbsp vegetable oil
3 garlic cloves, smashed, peeled and minced
¼ tsp salt
Half a sweet red pepper cut into very thin
     long strips

Rinse the lettuce and pat dry, making sure you do not tear its leaves apart. Cut the lettuce in half through its centre core. Set aside and let it dry. Pour 3 cups of water into a steamer, cover and bring to a boil. Combine the soy sauce, sesame oil, rice wine, sugar and pepper in a small bowl

Heat a skillet over high heat until hot but not smoking. Add the vegetable oil and garlic, and stir-fry for 10 seconds. Add the salt and stir-fry for another five seconds. Pour the sauce ingredients into the skillet and stir for 15 seconds.

Place the lettuce halves in the steamer and steam for 45 seconds or until the lettuce is half soft. Place each half of the lettuce on its own large flat plate, and cut into strips from the root to the top. Pour the hot sauce over the lettuce, distribute the thin strips of red sweet pepper over each of the halves for decoration and serve immediately.

Serves 6 to 8 as part of a multi-course meal.