Rich started writing for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin as music critic for the symphony and opera seasons. Originally from Granite City, IL, he graduated from Simpson College with a degree in music education. In 1984 he received his MA in Music ...
Rich started writing for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin as music critic for the symphony and opera seasons. Originally from Granite City, IL, he graduated from Simpson College with a degree in music education. In 1984 he received his MA in Music Education from Truman State. Now retired, Rich enjoyed reading, writing music and short essays. He is the director of Kirksville Community Chorus.
I’ve been told I make a great salad by a number of people. And I serve a salad with nearly every meal I put on the table. My awful secret is that I don’t much care for salads. Let me be clear that when I speak of salads, while I know there are loads of options, generally I’m talking about the lettuce salad variety, greens and whatever else one adds to please the pallet.
Special Jello salads and spinach salads have etched their own place on the menus available to us these days. Various Jello salads often show up at social pot luck events. I like some of these specialty salads, even most of them. But for a daily diet, I think of greens as something that’s better for the human diet.
First of all, I never buy iceberg lettuce. My understanding is that it has little to no nutritional value. But I do admit that cold, crisp iceberg lettuce is pretty tasty. Instead I choose green leaf, read leaf or Romaine lettuce for salads. I also enjoy the spring mixes and herb salads that are available in sealed bags.
Few salads are better than a true Caesar salad. Unfortunately, a genuine Caesar salad is rather hard to come by these days. If you see a Caesar salad on the menu at a restaurant, it’s only a real Caesar salad if it’s made table side, which requires a wooden bowl rubbed with garlic as well as other specific ingredients including anchovies, Romaine lettuce, parmesan cheese and various other specifics. Caesar salads can be made at home, but one must carefully examine the recipe used. A Caesar salad is not just Romaine lettuce with a dressing that tastes similar to the real thing. Here’s a recipe for Caesar salad that is pretty accurate, but the coddled egg is not necessary unless you’re afraid of raw eggs. I’ve eaten many a Caesar salad made with raw egg, but then you don’t really want to look like me. Anyway, you can find plenty of recipes on line. Here’s a link to a recipe for Caesar salad that is pretty close to what I’m familiar with: http://whatscookingamerica.net/Salad/CaesarSalad.htm
Here are some tips about plain old regular salads. First of all, the lettuce needs to be crisp. I soak my lettuce in water for at least an hour prior to making the salad. The lettuce will drink the water and take on new life. Then prior to adding other ingredients, I spin the lettuce. One can purchase a salad spinner for less than $3. But the $3 variety is not dishwasher safe. It’s easy enough to find one on line that will withstand the brutality of the automatic dishwasher. A quick look on line proves that they will run about $30, but like everything else, one can probably upgrade to one that costs as much as my entire kitchen (before the recent remodel).
You can always put the lettuce in a clean dishtowel and then twirl it above your head (out of doors) to get all the water off the leaves, or you can wrap the lettuce in several plies of paper towels and then squeeze the excess water out of the lettuce.
Once your lettuce is soaked and spun, it’s time to proceed. Recently I discovered that lettuce cut up in small pieces is not only much easier to eat, but will hold dressing more evenly. I learned this at a St. Louis restaurant, and it changed the way I make my salads.
From this point, it’s all about the other ingredients. Some common additions are radishes, cucumbers, shredded carrots, onion slices, croutons, grated or crumbled cheese, tomatoes and so on. Continuing, one can add various fresh herbs like basil, mint, fresh sage and so on. This is a matter of taste, but fresh basil is foolproof.
I like to add diced apple, blueberries, pecans or other nuts, mandarin oranges, pears or other fruits. Each ingredient can kick up a salad. If you try to pile all of these ingredients on at once, it might become overkill. Recent additions to fruits eligible for salad use are cranberries or raisins. There’s even such a thing as cranraisins. Grapes, of course, are great in salads too, but very high in sugar content.
My point is that there are no limits to what you can add to your salads. Bacon, ham, chicken, tuna and other meats will bring a salad closer to a full meal all on its own. Some restaurants serve salads with thin slices of pepperoni on top. Clearly, we have wandered far from the healthy option of greens and other vegetables, and I haven’t even mentioned the hard boiled egg.
So up to this point, you have plenty of choices for a really tasty salad, and we have yet to discuss the dressing. Vinegar and oil works. Rice vinegar adds it’s own special kick as does balsamic vinegar. You can add ground spices into an oil and vinegar mixture to enhance the flavor even further.
You can also go to the super market, where you will find as many choices for salad dressings as you find for laundry detergent. Try not to mix up the two. The trick is finding one that is in the same packaging two months in a row, which is true of both salad dressing and laundry detergent. I tend to favor refrigerated dressings generally. I guess my favorite is bleu cheese. This is not the most slimming option, but it’s pretty tasty.
You’re on your own at the market. As I said at the outset, I’m not a huge salad fan. I prefer fresh pineapple with my dinner. I run a little hot and cold with salads. When I find a dressing of which I like, I will eat salads much more often. But I tire of them easily.
Salads are great food and can be really healthy. I think if I could just have a salad for my meal, I’d eat them more often, but I don’t cook for just myself. So I go for more rounded meals. I tend to prepare too much food, but I’m getting better. I really like variety in my meals, and maybe that’s why I am so easily disinterested in salads. That sounds like a stupid thing to say when I’ve just given you so many options to make a salad special. Cheer up, that’s not the first stupid thing I’ve said, even today.