Stir-Fried Iceberg Lettuce

Lan Samantha Chang's Stir-Fried Iceberg Lettuce is tender and slightly sweet after cooking in a wok with soy sauce, a touch of sugar, and plenty of fresh ginger.

Stir-Fried Iceberg Lettuce
Photo: Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Margaret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Claire Spollen
Total Time:
20 mins
2 to 4 servings

Iceberg lettuce isn't just for eating raw in salads. As novelist Lang Samantha Chang's family recipe demonstrates, iceberg's pale, crisp leaves also take beautifully to stir-frying.

Raised wholly on authentic northern Chinese dishes, Chang's parents moved from China to the Upper Midwest in 1965. Hundreds of miles from the nearest Asian grocery store, her mother had to get creative with the American supermarket produce of the day—which, at the time, in the small town of Appleton, Wisconsin, meant lots of iceberg lettuce, which was like nothing she'd ever tried before. Instead of using it to make salad, Chang's mother tried stir-frying it. The result was surprisingly delicate, crisp and fresh. Many decades later, when greens traditional to Chinese cooking like bok choy are easier to get, the Chan family still loves this stir-fried iceberg recipe.

Cooked for just a few minutes in a hot wok, the crisp, mild leaves of iceberg lettuce are utterly transformed, shrinking in volume and turning semi translucent and tender in texture. Finished in the wok with a simple mix of soy sauce, a touch of sugar, and plenty of fresh ginger, the barely-cooked greens take on a slightly sweet flavor, and can be served in their cooking liquid, which makes a perfect sauce for spooning over a bowl of white rice.


  • 1 small (20-oz.) head iceberg lettuce, outer leaves discarded, head cored, and leaves separated

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce, plus more to taste

  • ½ teaspoon granulated sugar

  • 12 very thin (about 1-mm.-thick) 1- x 3/4-inch slices peeled fresh ginger (about 1 1/2 tsp.)


  1. Soak lettuce leaves in a bowl filled with cold water 5 minutes. Drain and spin in a salad spinner until dry. Alternatively, pat lettuce leaves dry using clean kitchen towels. Tear leaves into 1 1/2- to 2-inch pieces; spin again, or pat dry with paper towels.

  2. Heat oil in a wok over medium-high until shimmering and fragrant. Add lettuce pieces; cook, stirring constantly, until lettuce just begins to soften, about 45 seconds. Add soy sauce and sugar, stirring to coat lettuce in soy sauce mixture. Add additional soy sauce to taste. Add ginger; cook, stirring constantly, until inner lettuce leaves are translucent in spots and lettuce loses about one-third of its original volume, about 30 seconds. Remove from heat. Serve immediately, leaving liquid in wok.

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