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Our salads, our selves. May 31, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. As a committed saladholic, I actually like salads. I don’t eat them in an attempt to fill up on empty, tasteless low-calorie fodder so I won’t have room for fries and dessert. I don’t eat them because it’s simply what one does, or because the waiter just slapped the salad plate down so you might as well eat it. Nor do I eat them because the place has an all-you-can-eat salad bar and that means it’s, like, practically free food! I eat salads because I like them. No, I love them. And so does our friend Ben.

But over our years of enthusiastic salad consumption, we’ve observed that what people choose to eat as salad, or put on their salads, tells a lot about them. People who go for the wedge of iceberg drowning in blue cheese dressing obviously love blue cheese dressing with a little crunch to it. Folks who belly up to the salad bar and come away with plates weighing as much as they do, overflowing with pasta salad, potato salad, macaroni salad, and any other cold, mayonnaise-laden glop they can shove a scoop into, with not a shred of lettuce or a fresh veggie in sight, clearly would not eat a salad if it rushed them and shoved itself into their mouths. Bring on those mayo-coated carbs!!! Worst of all are those lost souls who mix salad, pasta salad, Jell-o salad, and fruit salad on the same plate. Eeeeewwww, can’t they just make up their minds, or at least put their smorgasbord of salads on separate plates?! To the guilty parties: What are you thinking?! You know you wouldn’t act like this at home.

A quick disclaimer here, lest you think that our friend Ben and I, in our quest for the true salad and nothing but the salad, are holier than most. Yes, we love salad. But we also love carbs, and we feel that never the twain should meet. (Hold those croutons and bring on the hot buttered rolls, please.) We like our salads with food, not as food. We love big, colorful, eye- and tastebud-pleasing salads, but we would not elect to simply eat a big old salad as an entire meal. The salad with the pasta or potato or hot bread and cheese plate; the coleslaw with the club sandwich and fries. Observant readers will note a second theme emerging here, too: We feel that salads should be cold but the main course should be hot. The two should complement, not echo, one another.

This brings us to a very sticky point, gastronomically speaking: At what point during the meal should a salad be served? In America, it’s served before the meal. In Europe, it’s served after the meal. Our friend Ben and I can see the sense of serving a salad before a meal, especially if you’re trying not to overeat. After the meal? Sheesh. By then the caloric damage has been done and who has any appetite left, anyway? We’re sure that there must be some logic to this European tradition, but we’re at a loss to determine what it could possibly be. We don’t eat dessert with our meals; we tend to have dessert as a celebration, and to eat it alone, as a sort of one-dish party food. But the thought of eating salad, then proceeding directly to dessert, is enough to stand one’s hair on end. (Salad to fruit and cheese plate? Sure. But if you’re having a salad and a fruit and cheese plate, why not just add a good baguette and make a meal of that?!!)

Oops, I just had, in the immortal words of a friend’s mother, a rush of brains to the head. Thinking back over the history of salad, I recalled that, until comparatively recently salad greens (even lettuces) tended to be quite bitter, and were considered “bitter herbs” with curative properties. You can still get a sense of that from endive, radicchio, and frisee. People ate salad after the meal for health reasons, as a digestive aid after the rich food of the previous courses. Who knows, perhaps it prevents clogged arteries!

But let’s get back to the best time to serve a salad. Our friend Ben and I are convinced that the very best time is with the meal itself. I guess it’s because we’re sensualists, but we love the cold crunch and crisp flavors of salad contrasted to the hot softness of whatever else we’re eating. We enjoy being able to alternate. Admittedly, we draw the line at even eating salad—unless it’s a tropical fruit salad or a slice of melon with lime juice—with curries, but we’d far rather incorporate the salad into our Mexican Night extravaganzas as part of the toppings for our refried beans, or eat it concurrently, than have a taco salad followed by Mexican food. We’d prefer to enjoy a Greek salad with our baba ghannouj, hot, plump pitas, and falafel patties than eat the salad first. And the same holds true for any cuisine—give us mac’n’cheese and salad, black bean soup and hot cornbread and salad, you name it and salad, not salad, then whatever. Maybe we’re just salad outlaws, but we say, try it before you diss it. It’s a very satisfying way to eat.

One more pet peeve while I’m on a rant: Maybe you were lucky enough to escape this, but when I was growing up in an oh-so-proper household, I was taught that it was bad manners to use a knife to cut your salad into manageable bites. Thus, you were supposed to try to lift and cram huge onion and pepper rings, giant lettuce leaves dripping with dressing, and so on into your mouth with your fork without looking like a hog at the trough or dribbling gunk down the front of your shirt. Yeah, right. This reminds me of the days of Louis XIV and the like, when even the highest nobles had lice, but it was considered shockingly rude to acknowledge same in public by, say, getting them off you. So here were dukes and princesses with lice crawling out from under their wigs and down their faces at some ball or banquet, while they and everyone else pretended to ignore them. 

I say, forget that. This rule of etiquette evolved because the earliest salads were all neatly shredded like coleslaw, so no one needed anything besides a fork to eat them. But today, when inconsiderate folks put giant, mouth-stretching pieces of stuff into salads rather than cutting or tearing them into bite-sized portions while composing their salads (shredding is optional, but really, dicing a pepper isn’t going to kill you), let’s get over ourselves and cut our salads with a knife. Eating bite-sized forkfuls of salad will be far more polite than cramming giant leaves into your mouth to honor tradition, trust me. Or, if you don’t trust me, just ask your dining companions.

Now it’s time for the quiz. What do your salad preferences reveal about you? Take our Salad Personality Test and find out:

                   Silence’s Salad Personality Test

Choose your favorite salads and see what they say about you!

All iceberg, all the time. You like to know what you’re getting into. No surprises—consistency is your watchword. But this doesn’t mean you’re dull. You count on those little “extras” to spice up your life, just as the right dressing can turn a wedge of iceberg from boring to sublime.

Caesar salad, with anchovies. You like to see things done right; you’re a traditionalist at heart. But your view of life has a definite salty tang. You use that traditional base to develop your own eclectic views.

Caesar salad, no anchovies. You’re all about surface impressions but lack the depth that gives weight to your views. Unless you’re skipping the anchovies because you’re a vegetarian, in which case you’re not afraid to indulge yourself, ignoring what anybody thinks, while remaining true to your principles.

Spring or mesclun mix. If you really love mesclun, you’re a sensualist who loves mixing different taste sensations for an ultimate high. If you choose this salad because you think it’s trendy, you’re a follower with no clear idea of who you are, only a vague idea of who you should be. And if you enjoy spring mix or mesclun because it’s soft, with no crunch, you’re a softie at heart (or you need to get your dentures checked).

Waldorf salad. If this is your fave, you’re not afraid to declare yourself to the world—a little fruity, a little nutty, a lot sentimental. You’re the sort of person who couldn’t give less of a damn about what’s trendy—your beloved Grandma and Grandpa loved a Waldorf salad, and if it was good enough for them, it’s good enough for you. It tastes good, it reminds you of them, end of story!

Pasta salad. Soft and slippery, you like to slide through life unnoticed. You’ve observed that calling attention to one’s self often brings risk—attracting attention can attract negative attention as well as positive. Better to keep quiet and hope that nobody notices you; then you can get on with your life without having to worry about what might happen next.

Pickled veggies. Pickled beets, peppers, cukes, and other veggies, as well as pickled red-beet eggs, can add a sweet-sour tang to a salad, and to life. You know that you often have to take the sour with the sweet in this world, and unlike many, have learned to relish both as part of a balanced life. You are the person voted “most likely to succeed”!

Radicchio and endive. Like the pickled veggie fans above, you know that life is not all about sweetness and light. You have to take the bitter with the sweet. But watch yourself—if you tend to go for all bitter greens and forget the sweetness, you’re likely to become cynical and bitter yourself. And nobody likes a cynic!

Spinach salad. You’re a person of substance who likes to see that you’re getting a return on your investments. What other people think of you matters. You keep up with trends, and update your look and home decor to retain your place among the fashionable elite. You’d never consider yourself cutting edge—that’s too risky, what if the trend doesn’t take?—but if “everyone” is drinking Chardonnay, even if you secretly prefer white Zin, by God, you’ll drink Chardonnay or die.

Arugula. You like to go for the meat of life. “Where’s the beef?!” is your mantra. If you could, you’d go for an all-arugula salad with maybe some almonds, onions, and orange slices for added spice. You enjoy life with gusto, but often have to tame down your natural instincts for the sake of others. You often find yourself adding arugula to spice up an ordinary salad, hoping to please everyone, rather than making the all-arugula salad you crave. But never fear—your efforts at accomodation will be rewarded. Everyone will love you, while acknowledging that there’s something special about you, even if they can’t put their finger on it.      

Mustard greens and horseradish. You like to add some heat to your life and your salad. You may not choose to live on the edge, but that little, unexpected bite of spice makes life worth living. And never knowing when you’re going to come upon it adds the real spice to your life. You are satisfied with who you are and are not out to prove it to anyone; instead, you find that people tend to flock to you as a natural leader. Get used to it!     

Tossed salad. You like variety in life and in salad, but don’t enjoy risk. The conventional has huge appeal, but you reject the boring. Mixing it up within conventionally accepted limitations gives you a chance to enjoy diversity without ever having to worry about what the neighbors think.

Topping fanatic. You don’t care what the underlying salad’s made of, what matters to you are the bacon bits, shredded cheese, hardboiled egg crumbles, sunflower seeds, croutons, and other toppings that make salad-eating worthwhile. You’re likely to be a well-adjusted person who deals with the ups and downs of life by recognizing that it’s the little things that make all the difference between happiness and misery.

I could go on, but I think that’s enough for one day. Tomorrow, I’ll post a wonderful spring salad and dressing that should convert every reader into a salad lover!

              ‘Til next time,





1. Curmudgeon - May 31, 2008

Wing Nut says she’s a mesclun and a Waldorf lover and can appreciate the pickled veggies too. Curmudgeon says all of the above–no iceberg please. We tend to eat our salads WITH the meal too. Actually, we fell in love over a salad in a dark smoky steak place. Wing Nut bit into a cherry tomato. It squirted Curmudgeon with juice, seeds, and pulp. WN was MORTIFIED!! C was shocked and appalled. It was only a matter of time before they ran off and got married! 🙂

HAAAA!!!!!!!!!!!!!! This is too classic! It sounds like something that could only have happened to me. Priceless!!!!!

2. deb - May 31, 2008

Great I can’t pick a favorite, so I must have multiple personalities.

I’m in the same boat. I love practically all salads, as long as the ingredients are fresh and flavorful. But I do love a lot of crunch as well as some spice! (And, ahem, cheese is always appreciated.) Just no pasta salad, please…

3. ceecee - May 31, 2008

Great, thoughtful post. How you can write so eloquently about salad is amazing to me.
That said, I am a spring mix/mesclun eater. I am terrified by iceberg, well not really, but almost. The only food I have ever sent back to the kitchen was a salad. I don’t consider myself a snob, but something billed as “mixed greens with …..” had better darn well be something other than iceberg. It’s not even green! What’s more, the iceberg lettuce was wet. At least that means they washed it???
A friend once said, ” I can’t believe you pay $7 a pound for weeds!” I can’t believe he thinks iceberg is anything more than a taco topping. 😉

Ha!!!! Maybe you should introduce your friend to Romaine, a definite step up but still with enough crunch to satisfy the iceberg lover. Ugh, being served wet lettuce! Yes, let’s hope that meant it was clean. But still, eeeeewwwww….

4. Joy - May 31, 2008

I just ate a bag of salad .. the iceberg mix .. BIG sigh .. I think I am an emotional eater of salad or multiple personality salad muncher as Deb pointed out ? .. I love Caesar but with dressing on the side .. all on the side when eating out .. otherwise they seem to drown it with dressing .. best combos .. home made taco meat mix on salad with a bit of grated cheese .. roasted chicken breast on top of Romaine with a bit of raspberry vinaigrette dressing .. old fashioned potato salad with egg included ..
Good grief …. I think I may need a salad support group because I could go on and on … and I just ate some pitless prunes for desert ? Can that be a fruit salad with one fruit ? I’m having one of those days … again. (Ok .. I had some vanilla icecream before the prunes .. BIGGER sigh )

Ha!!!!! Maybe we *all* need a salad support group! And what do you mean, a “bit” of grated cheese?!!! That must have been a typo for “bag,” right?!

5. Cinj - June 1, 2008

Mmm, I don’t really fit in any of your salad groups either. When I make a salad at a salad bar I take some of the iceberg lettuce, some of the spring mix, a few pieces of spinach, then sprinkle it with cheese. Ranch dressing on the side, with a nice hot piece of buttered bread, a bowl of soup, an occassional pasta salad (in minisule amounts) as well as some fruit (but they CAN NOT touch!). No, not fruit salad. Fruit.

It depends what I’m eating if I want salad before or with a meal though. I’m a bit of an eclectic type person, so I find it hard to find a rule that I tend to stick to. I can’t eat tacos without salad, but if I’m having a fish fry I like to eat my salad before I get my hot meal.

That salad sounds almost perfect, Cinj! Flavor, crunch, *and* cheese. Yum!!! Of course, I do like my veggies on top—any color peppers, cherry tomatoes, onions, broccoli—and some nuts or sunflower seeds sprinkled (okay, poured) on with that cheese…

6. TechSamaritan - June 1, 2008

I am a rocket (arugula) man. The bite, the bitter, and the fullness of flavor. If that is not in season, I would do the caesar with anchovies, the pickled veggies, of the horseradish and mustards (our Giant Japanese Red Mustard is in season right now!). I am not keen on iceberg or tossed salad unless I can top it with something worthwhile (a good strong cheese, a tasty balsamic vinegarette, or both!). Pasta salad? It is not really a salad, we only call it that because it is cold with dressing. One of my favorites that was not mentioned is bread salad. A good bread cubed with some spinach, fresh cheese and tomatoes, thrown with a simple olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and pepper dressing. Mmm mmm!

Yum!!! Arugula is my all-time favorite, the more peppery, the better. And your other choices sound great, too! I’ve not heard of bread salad before, but now I’ve *got* to try it!

7. erik - June 30, 2008

Caesar salad, with anchovies. You like to see things done right; you’re a traditionalist at heart. But your view of life has a definite salty tang. You use that traditional base to develop your own eclectic views.

what does it mean though if you like your Caesar covered in extra chicken strips and feta cheese?

you are a crazy m-fer…
i don’t understand WHY you don’t have a fan club…
maybe I’ll start one….

Ha! Love the idea of a fan club, Erik! As for what those extra chicken strips and feta means, it means you like to put your stamp on everything you touch. You enjoy the good things in life and aren’t afraid to ask for them!

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