Saturday, May 05, 2007

Salad? Groovy!

I was finishing up my kid-cooked dinner of hot dogs and buttered macaroni last night. But I needed a little something more. So, after searching the fridge and finding slim pickings (we are cleaning out the fridge and pantry in anticipation of the return to the auld sod), I turned to a childhood favorite.


And not just any kind of salad. Chopped iceberg lettuce and the dressing of my choice. In this case, red wine vinaigrette.

As I chewed through my cool crunchy treat, I thought about the lowly iceberg lettuce and wondered if it had ever had any respect?

And the truth is? Not really. Not outside the United States anyway. Within the U.S., iceberg lettuce was the epitome of 1950's, 1960's American culture. Readily available, uncomplicated and bland.

Outside? well kind of the same thing. We all enjoyed it, albeit from a guilty pleasure standpoint. Otherwise, we get to make fun of it.

But here is the thing.

Lettuce is wild!

It's antecedents were full of trouble.

For instance, Herodotus, Father of History, tells a story about Persian kings were serving salads at state dinners in the 5th and 6th century BCE. But when do you serve the salad? At the beginning of the end of the meal? Well, there seemed to have been a debate about it even in the ancient world. The Greeks, Romans and Egyptians all believed that salad induced sleep and therefore should be eaten at the end of the meal. But there were others that felt that lettuces stimulated appetites and even male virility (think fast bolting plants and dripping white liquids).

That liquid? Well it is a milky chemical called lactucarium, or lettuce opium. And it is a mild psychotropic, sedative and analgesic. For this reason, the Emperor Domitian would service salads at the beginnings of his state dinners in order to torture his guests as falling asleep in the presence of the Emperor would be the height of rudeness.

And lettuce opium? When reduced it forms a smokable paste that has been used in the U.S. since 1799.

Maybe that is what Leona’s was thinking of when they named their salad the Psychedelic Salad.

Either way, it is groovy, man.

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