Cream of Lettuce Soup

As a kid  I automatically assumed that a salad meant iceberg lettuce. But after I left home, I discovered leaf lettuce, radicchio, Romaine, endive, and all the other varieties I could compose a salad with and I never voluntarily ate iceberg lettuce again. Arugula, bibb, Boston, mache, I loved my salad and the homemade dressings that coated their leaves. When I was diagnosed with fructose mal-absorption, I went on a strict low-FODMAP diet for three months so that I could figure out which of the sugars were causing me trouble. During that time, my choices were iceberg, butter lettuce and spinach.

As it turned out, my problem foods are the ones that contain fructose and fructans, so I can eat endive and some of the other lettuces again. But three months of the strict diet made me reconsider the charms of iceberg lettuce and when I found this recipe I knew it would be perfect for my new way of eating. Besides, if I can find a recipe this good for lettuce, I know I can find lots more for the 36 veggies that I can eat on the low-FODMAP diet.

The Italians can make any food amazing, including iceberg lettuce. This soup has a delicate flavor that hints of asparagus and spring, with a pale green tint and a creamy texture. It might be March in the rest of the world, but where I am in Alaska, it looks like the middle of winter. We’ve had near record snows (129.3 inches, but who’s counting) and I’m ready for anything that reminds me of spring. This soup does the trick.  I served it with homemade cheese muffins, which made a light, but satisfying supper.

Use homemade beef or chicken stock for the best flavor. Most commercial broth has onions and garlic in it, both of which cause problems for fructose malabsorbers, so you’re better off making it from scratch. Use lactose-free milk if you’re lactose intolerant. This soup is equally good hot or cold, though the pepper gives it a bit more spice when it’s warm. It would also make a nice first course with roast beef or chicken as the entrée.

Cream of Lettuce Soup

Serves 4, adapted from “The Silver Spoon”

2 1/4 cups (540 ml) milk, regular or lactose-free
2 1/4 cups (540 ml) homemade beef or chicken stock
3 heads of iceberg lettuce, coarsely shredded
2 tablespoons (30 ml) of sweet rice flour
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon (15 ml) Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
salt and pepper

Put the milk and the stock into a large pan and bring to a boil. Add the lettuce and cook for five minutes. Stir until the lettuce wilts. Melt the butter in another large pan and stir in the rice flour until a paste forms. Continue cooking the butter mixture for another minute or two. In batches, blend the lettuce and its cooking liquid in a blender. Pour the purée into the pan with the rice flour paste and whisk until blended. Simmer the soup for 15 minutes.

Beat the egg yolk with the Parmesan cheese in a small bowl. Stir in a spoonful of the hot soup, continuing to stir until completely incorporated. Do this four or five times to temper the egg yolk. Slowly pour the egg and soup mixture back into the pot of soup, whisking constantly. Season to taste with salt and pepper.