What makes a good salad? As with everything in life, it depends on your life and food experiences.
When I was growing up, salad prepared for my family always meant Iceberg Lettuce (I didn’t know there was any other sort), tomatoes that looked okay but tasted of nothing at all and watery cucumber with the skin left on that made me burp just looking at them. Sometimes green peppers were added, which increased the personal explosive potential of the salad tenfold. This was topped, on you plate and never actually tossed through the whole salad, with a chemically dubious concoction from a bottle from the grocery store. Back then, the idea that salad dressing could be made at home was as far-fetched as the concept of jet powered roller skates. The reason the salad was never tossed in the dressing was the sure knowledge that if there was salad “Left Over”, it would not keep well if it had been dressed all over.
My first experience of “something other” in the dressing and salad department was at my future Ma-in-Law’s table. She dressed her salads in a simple vinaigrette, most probably taken from her kitchen “bible”.
Delia’s recipe in those days was this:
1 level tsp rock salt, crushed
1 (or 1/2) clove garlic-to taste
1 rounded tsp of dry mustard powder
1 TBS wine or balsamic vinegar
Freshly milled black pepper
6 TBS olive oil
Pop it all into a small, screw-top jar and shake it well over the kitchen sink to mix.
It’s as good a place to start as any. This amount is probably too much for a salad for two so I would start with about half and toss the salad well. You want to just have a very fine coating of dressing on the leaves. Drowned is a waste, in every sense. The salad dressing my husband makes now includes French Dijon mustard, red wine vinegar and good olive oil.
If you look at the photo above carefully, you will notice a blue, red and white pattern at the left side of the open pages. This is a cover I made for the book back in the 1980s. It is a vinyl wallpaper offcut and protects the book from “kitchen splatter”, which I am famous for in this household. So, Delia’s book is one of my kitchen “bibles” as well.
This new sort of salad I first experienced back then was a revelation to my taste buds. There was no way that there was EVER going to be any of this sort of salad left over to go slimy in MY fridge.
About the same time, a popular Women’s Magazine published an article about how to create a salad.
I think my head exploded! I cut out and kept the article and reproduce it here for you, kitchen splatter and all.
This article dates from the late 1970s and food tastes have moved on a bit since then but, the ideas are sound. Salad is whatever we can imagine it to be. I often clean out the fridge and use whatever I find in the way of cold veg as salad ingredients. Refrigerator Surprise Salad!
Not cold spinach though. That really doesn’t work.
I usually incorporate a sweet note in my salads by adding half a Conference or other crisp pear, sliced very finely. Or, grapes, cut in half. And somewhere on the sheets above it mentions anchovies. Please, before you think YUCK, this is anchovies, but not as you may have encountered them before. They can, of course, be harshly salty and might be the note of zing you are looking for on a pizza, functioning in the same way that olives or capers might also do. In a salad, I use about a quarter of a tin for a salad for two, chop them very finely and sometimes put them into the dressing so that they are well distributed amongst the leaves. This way they are rarely encountered as ANCHOVY but just add an “umami” depth of flavour in the way that any well-judged seasoning might do.
We love eating salad at lunchtime in the summer. I do find it is a most seasonal food. Come September/October my body doesn’t want raw tomatoes or cold salad anymore and a return to the comfort of winter food is needed.
And a final word about salad- the root of the word, as with the word salary, is salt. A good salad needs salt, in my opinion, so don’t be too shy.
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