If we're invited to dinner by friends or relatives, I can guarantee you one thing: My wife and I will be asked to bring a green salad.
I'm a bit mystified by this. We are pretty accomplished cooks, and a good garden salad seems pretty easy to concoct. Yet so many of our acquaintances claim inability. "Yours tastes better," they say. So, in an effort to bring the joys of salad days to one and all, here are our Principles of Salad Design:
- Do not be constrained by tradition. Salad in America is often reduced to an artless mélange of lettuce, tomato, carrots, cucumber, and maybe a little onion or green pepper. You, however, will think outside the bowl and embrace new ingredients with wild abandon.
- Ditch the iceberg lettuce. It's flavorless and perhaps the most nutritionally vacant food on Earth. Instead, go for mesclun mix, spring greens, baby spinach, or a similar leafy green as a salad base.
- Scour the garden and the produce section. What's in season? What looks good? Could be anything. We'll combine greens with fresh tomatoes, carrots, mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower, avocado, onion, red peppers, zucchini, cabbage, bean sprouts, or radishes, all in the same salad!
- Visit the canned veggie aisle. This is for sheer convenience. You can prepare these fresh, but when the hour's late and the kids are hungry, canned saves relationships. So we'll add canned beets, green beans, artichoke hearts, chick peas, and some black or kidney beans for protein. Yes -- all together with all the other stuff!
- Get chunky. Chop everything into small chunks if it's not already so you can fit a host of different flavors into every bite and make each forkful an adventure in new taste combinations.
- Prepare the sprinkles! We serve our salads with little bowls of dried cranberries, roasted sunflower and/or pumpkin seeds, and things like chopped almonds and crumbled feta or goat cheese that everyone can sprinkle on top.
- DIY your dressing. Forget chemically-intensive store-bought stuff. Make yours from a (roughly) 2:1 mix of balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Add a clove or two of pressed garlic, a little Dijon mustard, maybe a spot of maple syrup. Stick in an old jar, add salt and pepper to taste, and shake like crazy.
- Make a ton. You'll want leftovers. (Tip: put salad dressing only on the portion you want to serve at the first meal, then save the rest without dressing until you are ready to use it.) For lunch the next day, you can turn this veggie goodness into a killer chef's salad by adding chopped ham, turkey and/or hard-boiled egg. Or add canned or fresh-cooked salmon, or serve with chopped grilled chicken.
Try it and see. And you'll never again have to ask what you can bring to the potluck!