Everyone has a skill set and not-so-skilled set. In my bag of tricks I can boast that I am an excellent parallel parker; I can fit my behemoth 20 year old station wagon into spots fit for an MG and I can do it on the passenger side too. I can poach the heck out of an egg. And I can make a damn good salad. Really. And I have a formula for it but first let me prate on about what I don’t like about other salads for entertainment value.
Entree salads are different beasts than side salads (and many people would argue there is no such thing as an entree salad), so for the sake of this blog I’m going to stick to side salads. Things wrong with side salads: boring vegetables, insipid dressings distributed by a food conglomerate, or giant trophy leaves of lettuce that slide across the plate on to the tablecloth with everything else when you cut them, proving you are an uncouth heathen. How many times have you seen cherry tomatoes, cucumber, raw mushrooms and raw onion? What do you do with that cherry tomato? Bite it whole and let the seeds and juice gag you or shoot out of your mouth on to your fellow diner? Cut it in half like some OCD salad eater? The rest is just a snooze fest. There is very little creativity when it comes to salads out there. I really can’t argue that I’m more creative because I have a formula for creating a salad, but mine taste good.
I make salad dressing at least 3x a week; why I don’t make more than a day’s worth is not a question I can answer. I have several salad dressings I make, all based on the same theory. Recently a friend of mine requested that I post my everyday salad dressing on this blog. She wanted to shave a few pounds via salad for dinner and she wanted it to taste good. The thing is I don’t really know what goes in to it. Well, of course I know what goes into it, just not the proportions. So I have tried to make it several times and when I measure it it seems off. Normally I use my leftover jelly jars and pour the ingredients in, always in the same order, I can tell based on the level in the jar what is correct.
Now, for the salad, it goes like this: greens (I usually use a lettuce - bibb, green leaf, or recently, the very cheap Romaine or spinach or arugula), a chopped fresh herb (basil, cilantro, chives, mint, fennel fronds), fruit and a protein - either a nut (always toasted), cheese or meat or sometimes a combination. Next step, goody to leaf ratio. Honestly, you prefer the goodies (goodies = good) and the goodies are anything that is not leaf. My theory is it should be about a 65% greens, 35% goodies. Then there is the dressing. It shouldn’t be cloying or mask the flavor of your food; just like wine it should complement the salad.
I normally have these items on hand in some form or another. Usually it comes in scrap form, leftover from some other dish but not enough to make a real dish, whatever herb is floating around in my vase by the sink or in the herb garden. Nuts: buy them and store them in the freezer so they don’t become rancid, we always have pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, peanuts, pignoli... whatever. Fruit: again, whatever leftover; apple, orange, blackberry, strawberry and if you don’t have those may I suggest dried cranberries, dried blueberries or golden raisins? Seal them up and they will last in the pantry. Cheeses: shaved parm, chevre, blue, gruyere or sometimes, in our case, whatever leftover, bizarro, stinky cheese Jim has picked up on a whim. Meat: think pig or cured fish; prosciutto, Spanish chorizo, bacon, pancetta, smoked trout, smoked salmon. Seriously it’s like legos, pick one ingredient, grab another and start building.
So let’s try this a few ways. Arugula, chopped Navel orange, sliced fennel, toasted pecans and chopped fennel frond. Romaine, mint, chopped cantaloupe, goat cheese and prosciutto. Spinach, basil, golden raisins, blue cheese and walnuts. It’s easy and tasty. So pick your building blocks and lessgo.
Balsamic Vinaigrette - dresses 1 head of Romaine or a side salad for 4
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, the better, the better
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons dijon mustard (I prefer old stand-by Grey Poupon)
1 teaspoon honey
1 garlic clove cut in half on the bias
1 teaspoon Herbs de Provence
1 teaspoon Orange zest
1 teaspoon Lemon zest
Put everything in a jar and shake, or a bowl and whisk. It is preferable to make it an hour or two before dinner and let the garlic flavor infuse, discard garlic before dressing the salad. I dress the salad, meaning only the greens and mixed in herbs, 5 minutes before serving, I put the goodies on top. Nuts, meat, fruits and cheeses do not need to be covered in dressing, and really, it effects their textures and ruins their colors.
Salad with Cantaloupe, Proscuitto and Goat Cheese - Serves 2-4
1 Heart Romaine (approximately 2 cups chopped)
1 1/2 ounces goat cheese - crumbled
1 ounce prosciutto - chopped
1/2 cup cantaloupe - chopped/cubed