The Salad – be it served as a starter to a multi-course meal (common in America’s restaurants), as an accompaniment to the meal itself (common in American homes) or at the conclusion of a spectacular meal (a European thing), the salad is an often understated and yet important part of the whole dining experience. The Salad could even be the meal itself. Taco salads, Fajita salads, Grilled Whatever Salads, and one of my favorite summertime meals, the Chef Salad.
I once read that the reason salads are served at the start of the meal in many American restaurants is because they are an easy (and often cheap) filler to keep the diner occupied while awaiting the main entrée. (Another reason for the “endless” bread supply). As far as the practice of serving a salad with the meal at home, I am of the opinion that in America it’s a time-saving thing. Most family meals, despite however long it takes to prepare, are generally served to be eaten rather quickly. Americans really don’t spend much time lingering over a home-cooked meal, and that’s a shame. Oh we might slow down a bit when dining out at a sit-down restaurant, but rush through a meal we’ve taken the time to prepare ourselves. Lingering at a restaurant is a way of getting our money’s worth, I suppose. But at home, we tend to eat quickly. Wolf everything down and rush off we go in a thousand different directions. I’m not sure when this became the norm in America or why, it’s just what we do. Unless of course we have company at the table, and then we slow down. Is this because we value the guest above those we live with? Just an observation. I could be completely wrong . . .
In our house, the salad is usually served at the end. Sometimes we’ll go so far as to clear the table and wash the dishes before having our salad. Salads are said to be a good palate cleanser, or to help in the digest of a heavy meal. Both of these are valid reasons for serving a salad at the end. However; Hubby says he likes his salad at the end because he wants to eat the hot food while it’s still hot, and the salad will keep until the end even if it’s placed on the table at the start. I can’t argue with his sound logic.
Sometimes a salad is nothing more than torn lettuce and chopped tomatoes with a good dressing. (Those are my favorite – we always have lettuce and tomatoes at hand). Other times, especially if the meal itself is something “special”, a salad needs to be equally well-thought out. Salads can be as simple or complicated as you wish.
Without further adieu, I give you The Salad . . .
The great thing about this salad from Everyday French is that it is a per-person recipe; which means you can make just the right amount of salad.
Arugula Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette
1 large handful of Arugula
1/2 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Wash the arugula and spin it dry. By the way, the everyday French chef doesn’t shy from using ‘salad in a bag’ — but it still needs rinsing to get those chemicals off. The fresher the Arugula, the less bitter and more peppery the flavor. Set aside.
In the bottom of your salad bowl, combine the vinegar and the olive oil, stirring energetically to create an emulsified sauce. If the sauce does not emulsify, add a little bit more oil. Peel the garlic clove and cut in half. Add to the sauce. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Just before serving, remove the garlic from the sauce and add the arugula to the bowl. Toss well.
Another wonderful, authentic salad from Everyday French is this Caesar Salad, complete with home-made croutons.
Caesar Salad with Herbal Croutons
Ingredients – Herbal Croutons
1 loaf French bread or another crusty bread
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 branch rosemary, or 1 teaspoon dried herbs (thyme, oregano or herbes de Provence)
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly Ground Black Pepper
Make the croutons. Cut the bread in half crosswise to make two manageable pieces. Slice each piece in half lengthwise. Then cut each half into strips. Now cut through the strips crosswise to form cubes about 3/4 inch per side. Important: Do not discard the crust! Remember, the crust is what gave croutons their name.
Spread the bread cubes out on a rimmed baking sheet and allow them to dry-out for about an hour.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. While the oven heats, transfer the cubes to a large bowl. Drizzle with the olive oil. Sprinkle with the herbs, salt and pepper. Toss, so that the cubes are evenly coated.
Return the cubes back to the baking sheet. Bake 15-20 minutes, or until golden. This process can go very quickly — to prevent burning, which would ruin the croutons, peek into the oven after 10 minutes and keep checking frequently until they are done.
Allow the croutons to cool completely. If you don’t need all the croutons at once, you can store them in a covered plastic container in the fridge for up to a week. Simply reheat gently before serving. Serves 6.
Ingredients – Caesar Dressing
2 Egg Yolks
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice (juice of 1/2 lemon)
2 Teaspoons Dijon Mustard
2 Medium Cloves Garlic, peeled and chopped
2 Anchovy Filets, chopped
1/2 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
Fresh Ground Black Pepper
3 Tablespoons Parmesan Cheese, freshly grated
Combine all the ingredients EXCEPT the cheese in a blender. Pulse until you have a thick, emulsified sauce. Transfer the dressing to the bottom of a large salad bowl. Stir in the cheese. Set aside until ready to serve.
Ingredients – Caesar Salad
1 cup (or more) Herbal Croutons (above)
Caesar Dressing in a bowl (above)
1 Head Romaine Lettuce
Chop the Romaine lettuce crosswise into strips about 2 inches wide. Wash, spin dry and set aside in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
Five minutes before serving, return the croutons to a preheated oven to warm them. Place the chilled Romaine Lettuce on top of the dressing in the salad bowl. Toss lettuce with dressing. Add warm croutons and toss again.
Serves 4 as a salad course, 2 as a main course.
The beauty of this particular Caprese Salad (aside from the wonderful color) is that it is designed to serve on individual plates.
3 or 4 tomatoes, good quality, such as heirloom
1 lb fresh mozzarella
fresh Italian basil (do not substitute dried)
extra virgin olive oil
Kosher or good quality sea salt
Slice the tomatoes into about 3/8″ thick slices. Slice the mozzarella into the same sized slices.
Arrange the tomato and mozzarella slices alternating onto well-chilled salad plates. If desired, tuck fresh basil between the slices.
Drizzle salad generously with extra virgin olive oil, and sprinkle with salt just before serving.
This beautiful Greek Salad is made with a multitude of colorful and flavorful vegetables. It naturally lends itself well to a large platter presentation to display all its beauty.
Greek Feta and Romaine Salad
1 head romaine lettuce, rinsed, dried and chopped
1 red onion, thinly sliced
1 (6 ounce) can pitted Marinated Green olives, sliced
1 Yellow bell pepper, chopped
1 Red bell pepper, chopped
2 large tomatoes, chopped
1 cucumber, sliced
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 lemon, juiced
ground black pepper to taste
In a large salad bowl, combine the Romaine, onion, olives, bell peppers, tomatoes, cucumber and cheese.
Whisk together the olive oil, oregano, lemon juice and black pepper. Pour dressing over salad, toss and serve.
This salad is very basic, very simple and a bit nostalgic. The Wedge Salad has been an American Classic since the 1940s, when the bland Iceberg Lettuce was first introduced for commercial use. Hubby believes Iceberg lettuce to be the “real” salad lettuce of choice, while I like a variety of young greens or a leafy green lettuce as the building blocks to a great salad experience. This simple salad is for Hubby, with love.
Iceberg Wedge Salad
4 slices Turkey bacon
1 Cup Ranch Dressing
2 garlic clove, minced
1⁄4 cup chopped fresh basil
1 large head iceberg lettuce, cut into 4 wedges
1⁄4 Feta Cheese, crumbled
4 Basil Leaves, torn for garnish
Cook bacon in a large skillet until crisp; remove bacon and drain on paper towels. Once the bacon has cooled, crumble the bacon and set aside.
Combine dressing, garlic and basil in small bowl; stir well.
Cut lettuce head into four large wedges. Place each wedge on an individual salad plate. Top each lettuce wedge with dressing and sprinkle with bacon and feta cheese. Garnish with shredded basil, if desired.
One of my all-time favorite salads is simply a mixture of tender greens, pears and walnuts. The Feta is optional. It adds to the flavor of the pears. The dressing for this salad is nothing more than fresh squeezed lemons with a little olive oil. Truffle oil would be wonderful, if you happen to keep it on hand as I do.
Winter Salad with Walnuts & Pears
4 large handfuls of mixed salad greens
1 cup walnut halves
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt freshly ground to taste
freshly ground black pepper
Wash the salad greens, spin dry and place in a large bowl. Wash, quarter and core the pears. Slice the quarters crosswise and add them to the bowl. Scatter the walnut halves over the salad. If not serving immediately, place in the refrigerator to keep well-chilled.
When ready to serve, add the lemon juice, olive oil and seasonings. Toss well and place on chilled plates. Sprinkle with Feta and serve.
Do you have a favorite salad? If so, I’d love to hear about it. Until we chat again, have a wonderful day!