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Serious salads. May 30, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. I usually enjoy The Wall Street Journal’s articles on food, but today’s on making salads enraged me with its obviousness. Mix up some greens and add cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, nuts and/or seeds, then let guests add the dressing when you serve the salad. Gee, ya think?

Sheesh. There are salads, and then there are salads. To make one that appeals, even stuns, across a wide spectrum, follow the Seven Salad Rules:

Rule #1: Mix it up. I’m a firm believer in a mix of colorful, flavorful, crunchy greens. Admittedly, I can go for a crunchy wedge of Iceberg with blue cheese, tomato and onion (the revived classic “wedge salad”) if I’m dining out, but a limp plate of “spring greens” is just pitiful. Color is great, but not without texture! Go for Boston or butter lettuce for sweet creaminess, Romaine for crunch, arugula or watercress for peppery spice, radicchio or endive or frisee for depth and bitterness, spinach for nutrients, mustard greens for heat. And yes, with so much going for you, you can even add a few handfuls of spring mix.

Rule #2: Ramp it up. Once you’ve got your base of greens, it’s time to up the flavor ante. I’m big on adding fresh herbs right into the salad rather than mixing them in the dressing. I love adding plenty of chopped scallions (green onions), mint, basil, thyme, cilantro, or whatever you have on hand and are craving (parsley, dill, fennel tops, rosemary, lemon balm, lovage, borage, chives, garlic chives, cilantro, you name it). your guests will enjoy an explosion of flavor with each bite! My ultimate secret for ramping up the flavor is to add a good dollop of horseradish to spice up my salad. Sound weird? Think what horseradish and cocktail sauce do for the greens in shrimp cocktail, and you’ll be on to something.

Rule #3: Go for veggie goodness. When it comes to salads, there’s almost no such thing as a bad veggie. Whether you’re adding pickled beets, Chinese turnips, blanched asparagus, sliced fennel bulbs or yellow summer squash, corn cut fresh off the cob, or matchstick daikon radish or jicama, you’re adding more texture, color and flavor. Tried-and-true salad staples like carrots, bell peppers (red, orange, yellow and/or green), radishes, celery, cherry tomatoes (red, yellow, orange, pink and/or purple), cukes, red cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower florets, and red (Spanish) onion all add color, flavor, texture, and nutrients. My feeling is, you can’t go wrong with veggies! The more, the merrier.

Rule #4: Make fruit salads simple. Adding fresh and dried fruits to a salad can result in a really luscious dish. But if I’m adding fruit, I want to hold off on the veggies. You can create a gorgeous base of mixed greens (I especially like Boston and butter lettuces with fruit) and add herbs, scallions, red onion, and fennel. Then add your fresh fruit, in any combination that appeals: fresh strawberries, sour cherries, blueberries, red raspberries, mangoes, peaches or nectarines, grapes, tangerines, grapefruit, oranges, apples, pears. (I prefer to serve melons, bananas and black raspberries as stand-alone treats.) Add dried fruit to taste (dried cranberries, golden raisins, diced apricots, and cherries are all good choices), then some nuts (pecans and sliced almonds lend themselves especially well to fruit salads). A little cheese—crumbled blue, feta, or Gorgonzola, or shredded Swiss or sharp white Cheddar—and your salad is perfect.

Rule #5: Add some protein and fat. What ultimately makes a salad satisfying is the protein and fat component. That means eggs, cheese, beans, nuts and seeds, and oily treats. I’ve noticed that sliced hard-boiled eggs tend to be snapped up before the salad can even be served, so make sure you make plenty. Cheese is a no-brainer: Go for shredded cheese (my faves are shredded white super-sharp Cheddar, Swiss, or Parmesan, or crumbled feta, blue, or Gorgonzola. Canned beans, such as cannelini and kidney, add a protein and fiber punch and help fill you up, besides adding color and flavor. Nuts I love in salads are pecans, walnuts, black walnuts, hickory nuts, hazelnuts (filberts), pistachios, and almonds. (Much as I love cashews, I like them cooked or eaten out of hand, they’re too much for a salad. Crumbled peanuts are okay on an Asian-themed salad, otherwise no.) Seeds like pepitas (roasted pumpkinseeds) and sunflower seeds add crunch and nutrients. Artichoke hearts, avocadoes and olives add that rich, oily, satisfying touch to your salad. Go for it!

Rule #6: Top it off. Yes, of course, cheese, shredded carrots, nuts and seeds, dried fruit, chives or scallions, and even cherry tomatoes can be considered salad toppings. But don’t stop there. Sprouts, including super-healthful broccoli sprouts; chia, flax, and hemp seeds; thawed frozen or fresh garden peas; and whole spices, such as cumin seeds, fennel seeds, and mustard seeds, also add crunch and health benefits to your salad. I don’t like to add croutons, which strike me as a high-calorie, nutrient-deficient topping, so I add seeds or nuts instead: Lots of crunch for better nutrition.

Rule #7: Keep your dressing simple. There’s nothing I hate as much as a heavy, gloppy salad dressing that smothers all the ingredients I’ve taken so much time to put together. My favorite dressing is a simple oil and vinegar: Hojiblanca extra-virgin olive oil and 18-year aged balsamic vinegar. But if I want to add a citrus note instead of the balsamic or toss in some crumbled blue cheese, I’ll do so without guilt, knowing that my base is pure. No worries, I know the flavors of the salad will still shine through.

Enjoy your salad experiments!

‘Til next time,

Silence

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