"Iceberg Lettuce" by Joanie Mackowski + Massaged Kale Salad with Roasted Garlic Dressing

The first time you read this poem, you might peek underneath your own dinner table to see "what vegetable leviathan extends beneath." The second time, though, imagination fully open, you'll catch the subtle nuances.

Around one dinner table sits a "leaf on a plate like a wing," almost weightless, until we learn what would occur should it fly away. I sense the speaker reaching for something beyond her own existence. In one moment she remains in the physical world, bringing a small fork to her lips with pieces of vinegar-coated lettuce, but in the same moment a conversation is occurring within her soul, recognizing life's fragility.

Iceberg Lettuce

by Joanie Mackowski

What vegetable leviathan
extends beneath the dinner table,
an unseen, monstrous green that pulls
the chair out from under our faith
in appearances: see a mere tuft
of leaf on the plate like a wing,
but if it flies away, it undoubtedly
will disturb the continental drift
asleep under the salad plate,
the hidden world we forget
as we reach for the smaller fork—
(and now, mouth full, don't speak: politely
chew your leaf of firmament
that's torn and tossed up in vinegar here as
we'll be tossed before its vast
root maybe someday or any moment).

Source: Poetry (January 1999)

Although the title suggests iceberg as the lettuce gathered in the bowl, I think kale is a good substitute for its sturdy leaves that start out slightly bitter but are mellowed by long-roasted garlic. You may certainly dress up this salad with other additions, but I like that it's so simple we don't need to question our "faith in appearances." Instead, only kale, garlic, and the honest truth wait curled up in the bowl.


Most people I've spoken with have noticed at least some difference (although the degrees of difference vary). The best thing is to try it for yourself at least once. To serve 2 people as a side, I used about half of a bunch of kale and saved the rest for later. To give your leftovers a boost, make some quinoa, sauté the remaining kale, and toss it with the quinoa and extra dressing. You can eat this as is, form them into patties and fry, or add an egg on top.

1 head roasted garlic
Touch of Dijon mustard
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 bunch kale
Parmesan cheese

Roast the garlic ahead of time by wrapping the head loosely in foil (you can cut it in half lengthwise if you want), and roasting at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes. The garlic will be deeply fragrant and golden brown. Let cool, then squeeze the garlic cloves out with your fingers and place them in a food processor.

When you're ready to make the dressing, combine the roasted garlic with a touch of Dijon mustard and about 2 tablespoons of buttermilk. Give it a spin to combine everything, then gradually add extra-virgin olive oil until the desired consistency is reached. (You don't want it too thin, so go slowly.) Refrigerate until it's time to toss the salad.

Rinse and dry your kale, then remove the leaves from the stem. Slice into small pieces or ribbons and add to a large enough bowl to fit both of your hands. Now it's time to use your hands. Using them both, grab as much as you can in each fist and gently pulse your fingers against the leaves. Spend about 3-5 minutes doing this, making your way around the bowl until all the kale is sufficently attended to. Pour on some dressing, and using your hands again, toss until well coated. Serve with additional Parmesan on top.