A salad is a dish of raw or cooked foods, seasoned and dressed with a sauce of some type.
Salads are divided into three main categories: The tossed garden greens include baby lettuces and spinach salad; many salads feature one type of lettuce, like the Caesar and a wedge of iceberg with thousand island or bleu cheese dressing. Mesclum, a popular bagged salad mix, refers to a mix of seasonal greens including arugula, butter, frisee, limestone, mâche, radicchio, and mizuna; there are various young and baby lettuce mixtures now available from different growers. Marinated salads, often made with one type of vegetable, can be made with a vinaigrette or mayonnaise-based dressing, like celery root remoulade, mushrooms a la grecque, leeks vinaigrette, potato, rice,
bean salads, and pasta salads, coleslaw, and Waldorf. Composed salads are more substantial, containing multiple ingredients. Here is your Salade Nicoise, Cobb, shrimp or crab Louis, Layered Fajita Salad, Chef’s Salad, and Hearts of Palm.
The sauce techniques are all derived from two main mother sauces–the vinaigrette (oil and vinegar) and mayonnaise (an emulsion with eggs or soft tofu). The vinaigrette is the most common dinner salad dressing, which can be mixed up in minutes. The type of oil used depends on the dish and style of cook. Olive oil is the most common for its nutrition and delicious taste, as well as heart-healthy mono-unsaturaed acids. Extra virgin is the strongest in flavor, the first pressing, is always recommended to be used in an uncooked state, especially vinaigrettes or drizzled. Other oils are nut oils (especially walnut or macadamia), avocado oil, corn oil, grapeseed oil, sunflower oil, and organic canola oil.
Here are two famous simple salads I love that will serve you well. One is the basic tossed green salad, poetic in its recitation of technique, and a now classic salad with warm goat cheese rounds served on top, which I served countless times for catering on butter lettuce.
Mixed Green Salad a la Vincent Schiavelli
The late actor and surprisingly adept gourmand Vincent Schiavelli wrote the most wonderful first cookbook, Papa Andrea’s Sicilian Table (Citadel Press, 1993). In it he records his grandfather’s recipes and, to my delight, he has written down how to make a great simple tossed green salad. He remarks that “a salad is more art than science, and not difficult to master.” It is a great accompaniment to your braise or stew, or as its own course to serve after. If you use one of the premixed bitter lettuce combos that have become chic and are available now at many supermarkets and farmer’s markets, use in combination with at least 50 percent regular green leaf lettuce to balance the sweet and bitter to make the salad most enjoyable. One pound of lettuce will feed 4 people a heaping two-cup serving. This is an adaptation of Vincent’s insalata mista, the mixed green salad. If you use lemon juice instead of the vinegar, use equal parts of juice and oil.
- Any mixture a la momento of sweet and bitter salad greens, such as butter or romaine lettuce, red leaf lettuce, Cos lettuce, iceberg, radicchio, watercress, fennel, endive, baby spinach, màche, or arugula, washed and well dried, and torn by hand into pieces (not cut, which will discolor the leaves)
- Thin sliced red onion, grated or sliced beets, parcooked green beans, grated carrot, sliced tomatoes, avocado dipped in lemon juice, edible flower petals like nasturtiums, baby zucchini slices, sliced mushrooms, sprouts, olives, cucumber, etc, as desired (optional)
- Fine sea salt, which will open the lettuce to receive the vinegar
- Red or white wine vinegar, such as Zinfandel or Merlot vinegar, Sherry vinegar, Cabernet vinegar, Champagne vinegar, fig vinegar, rice wine vinegar, or a good apple cider vinegar
- Olive oil, extra-virgin, virgin, or light, as your palate and purse dictate
- A pepper mill with black or white peppercorns
Place the lettuces in a large bowl. Sprinkle lightly with the salt, a few pinches are all that are needed even for a large salad. Toss with your hands or tongs. Sprinkle with the vinegar until the aroma rises gently from the bowl. Toss again. Drizzle with the olive oil, about three times as much oil as the vinegar. Toss again. Keep a light hand; you can always add more. Toss in any other ingredients, like cucumbers, etc, or arrange on top. Grind some black pepper over the top and serve. Never add too much of anything, “you don’t want a vinegary or oiling salad, but ingredients enhanced by the dressing.”
Salad of Greens with Goat Cheese
Once upon a time, an architecture student who was sleeping on the couch at a friend’s apartment ate at a small, local hangout and helped in the kitchen one day when the staff was shorthanded. He ended up staying and working in the kitchen, helped owner Alice Waters create a legendary food scene, and in the process, became a chef. The man is Jeremiah Tower, one of the most lauded chefs of the last three decades on the West Coast, and the restaurant was Chez Panisse in Berkeley. Before he owned his own restaurants, Tower taught cooking classes in San Francisco. The Salad of Greens with Goat Cheese is one of his most famous creations and the signature plated salad of a new generation of foodies, made with a domestic cheese (little known at the time) called chèvre from Laura Chenel in Marin County. The recipe I share here was on a piece of faded paper with his letterhead from one of those classes long ago. This composed salad has had many transmutations through its popular life, but this is the original, and it is as fabulous and fresh as the day it was created.
- 1/2 cup olive oil or walnut oil
- 2 tablespoons Champagne wine vinegar
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 4 slices country or French bread, about 1/2 inch thick, cut in fourths on the diagonal
- 2 cloves garlic
- 4 (1 ounce each) firm Crottins, or a log of Montrachet, cut into 8 rounds
- About 1/2 cup olive oil, divided use
- 1/2 cup coarse fresh bread crumbs, made by whirling chunks of fresh bread in a food processor
- 4 heaping cups or handfuls mixed salad greens (bitter greens, endive, chicory, sorrel, baby dandelion, watercress, arugula, celery leaves, baby hearts of romaine), or butter lettuce leaves, washed, dried, and at room temperature
1. In a small bowl, combine the oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Set aside.
2. Rub the slices of bread with the whole clove of garlic on both sides; discard the garlic. Set aside.
3. Pour some of the olive oil in a small, shallow dish. Dip the rounds of cheese first in the oil, then in the bread crumbs, coating both sides.
4. Place the 1/4 cup of the olive oil in a medium skillet and heat to medium. Place the coated rounds of cheese, in a single layer, in the skillet and cook until golden on the bottom; carefully turn with a metal spatula to brown the other side, 1 to 2 minutes.
5. Place the greens in a bowl and toss with the dressing. Divide between 4 salad plates. Place the warm cheese round in the center of the plate of greens. Quickly place the bread slices in the remaining hot oil and brown on both sides. Tuck two croutons onto each plate of salad. Serve immediately.
Both recipes excerpted from Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook, by Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufmann. (c) 2005, used by permission from the Harvard Common Press.
Recipe and text copyright Beth Hensperger 2017
Please enjoy the recipe and make it your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.
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