One dinner in particular at my in-laws' stands out. I can't even recall if Rick and I were married yet, but I was sitting down to a meal of ham, wax beans, and probably mashed potatoes. My first glance told me that the ham--pale, sad, and already sliced--would be dry and a struggle. My eyes widened in alarm at the dish of beans: they were a colour that I had never seen wax beans take on before, sort of a sepia-toned, manila hue with a distinctly grey cast. Horrified, I pinned all my hopes on the Salad. How could anyone ruin a Salad?
The Salad, such as it was, was on a separate plate already made up. It was a limp leaf of iceberg lettuce surmounted by a single ring of canned pineapple. Inside its center was a dab of cream cheese upon which had been sprinkled some walnut dust. We each had one.
I was doomed.
I thought longingly of my mother's everyday Salads, served with every single dinner, even takeout pizza. They were huge family-style bowls full of iceberg and leaf lettuces, fresh onion, cucumber, radishes, tomatoes (when they were in season), and every once in a while, a Wild Card Ingredient, depending upon her mood, my father's request, or what was hanging around in the grocery store, farmstand, or crisper. Oh, and green olives. She made her own vinaigrette, too, and insisted on Regina Red Wine Vinegar. And measure? Ha! It is to laugh. Watching her shake and pour the oil and vinegar bottles over the salad and add her seasonings (always Lawry's Seasoned Salt, garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper), then toss and toss and toss again and again was to watch a mad scientist at work.
What I wouldn't have given for one bowl of her Salad at that meal.
No one should be victimized by Bad Salad. A Salad should be a celebration of fresh ingredients made bright by its dressing. It should be flavourful and wonderful. It shouldn't feel like a punishment, and it shouldn't feel like a scavenger hunt or a rummage sale, either.
I hate those Salads that are basically a bowl of whitish-yellow lettuce, a pale crunchy tomato wedge, and a hunk of cucumber. Period. I wouldn't give a homeless bunny that crap. Add one of those sugary, viscous bottled dressings, and I think I'd rather have the pineapple ring with cream cheese.
But by the same token, what is going on with some of these Salads that have a ton of junk in them? Lettuce, arugula, kale, spinach, chow mein noodles, cashews, golden raisins, cheese, tortilla strips, blueberries, shredded carrot, chicken, pita chips, and sprouts? Do you know that some restaurant Salads clock in at over twelve hundred calories? Holy crap.
As soon as the weather gets warm, Rick and I opt for Big Salads for dinner a lot of the time. I follow the same kind of recipe handed down from St. Patsy with a few variations. I use olive oil and balsamic vinegar for my dressing, and because I am more picky and exacting, I measure. Every time. I do use Lawry's for that familiar taste, but I use only freshly ground black pepper always. For our Big Dinner Salads, I add a chunked-up chicken breast or piece of steak or whatever protein we fancy. And rather than iceberg lettuce, I use romaine. The rest of the ingredients can vary like St. Patsy's now and then, depending upon what is in season and what I have left over. Once in a while, I make an Asian-inspired dressing, and we vary the Salad ingredients to accommodate that. Summer means lots and lots of options since the farmstands are full of produce: roasted yellow and zucchini squash, peppers, sweet corn, tomatoes--the list is truly endless. But always, I strive for taste and balance.
The only time I buy bottled dressing is to make this terrific Salad, introduced to me by my friend and fellow blogger Shirley. I make one addition to it, and that is to add chunks of crisp apples. It's a terrific Salad, especially in the fall.
Oh, Salad! What a bad rap you've gotten! From turgid Jell-O molds holding shreds of vegetables in suspended animation to ascetic scoops of cottage cheese cradled in cantaloupe halves, you've been dismissed as Diet Fare, labelled as Lady Lunch, and eyed askance as a source of Salmonella In A Sack.
But I still love you. I love you even though you are worky to put together, despite my Salad Spinner and the help of Rick, my Salad Sous Chef, a man always happy to help with anything that doesn't end up looking like stuff his mother made.