Tuesday, June 26, 2012

How to Make an Extraordinary Salad

Tell me if this sounds familiar.  It is 1:00 in the afternoon, time to stop for lunch and you open your desk drawer to find the same tired menus.  Same options as yesterday: sandwiches that are more meat than bread, oily pizzas, cheese steaks and pastrami sandwiches all made on the same flat top grill with crusty brown bits.  The same places that offer the before mentioned will also offer a salad option and your thinking, 'It would be great to have something healthy and light." So you order the salad and what do you get?  A ridiculous amount of iceberg lettuce topped with processed cheese cubes, deli meat, a dried out hard boiled egg, and maybe, just maybe a whole, pitted, black olive that came out of a can.  Let's not forget the little cup of thick, viscous salad dressing most likely originating from a bottle marked Kraft.

Now tell me, was it worth it?  Do you feel healthier?  In fact, I always marvel at how I feel worse after eating one of those salads than I would if I had had the cheese steak.  Who am I kidding?  I did have the cheese steak.  Do you know why?  Because I was secretly convinced that I do not like salad.  Secretly, because I a a huge proponent of healthy eating.

So where did salad go wrong for me?  I think it started in high school, when salad was for girls who were watching their figures.  I hated those girls.  If I was going to eat a hamburger I wasn't going to apologize for it because I was a girl.  Worse than that it meant that salad was not about the pleasure of eating, it was about restricting that pleasure.

So I would like to change how I feel about salad.  I have been hard at work exploring what a salad can offer and learned that an extraordinary salad is not only worth eating, but that which I will look forward to eating.  In fact, I will crave it.  That being said, there are a few things that need to understood as components of an extraordinary salad.

Components of an Extraodinarily Good Salad:
  1. Contrasting textures: crunchy/creamy or soft - For example, crunchy greens or carrots with soft cheese or avocado
  2. Contrasting flavors: salty/ sweet, crispy/meaty - For example, dried fruit and nuts, or chicken and crunchy croutons
  3. Bright colors: Velieve me if your salad is dark brown and wilted green you are not excited about eating it
  4. You must have a salad spinner.  If this is an obvious fact, you are a cut above the rest of us.  If you are like me you may have thought that paper towels were a good enough drying method. They are not.  They are a hassle and never seem to get the leaves dry enough.  Spin out as much water as possible because a little will ruin you salad.
  5. Whatever greens you are using, if the leaves are large, cut them down the center vein first and then chop into bite size pieces.  That way you can get more flavors in one bite.
  6. No deli meat, no canned vegetables, no processed cheeses and for the love of Pete, no bottled salad dressing.  
Here are some other extroadinarily good salads that you really should try. Click on the link to go to these amazing sites.

  1. Cobb Salad from Smitten Kitchen
  2. Kale Market Salad from 101 Cookbooks
  3. Mark Bittman's Raw Beet Salad
  4. Cucumber Peanut and Basil Salad from Fine Cooking
  5. Raw Asparagus and Mushroom with Walnuts and Miso Dressing from Gourmande in the Kitchen
  6. Wedge Salad from No Recipes
This salad was inspired by one we had at a wedding this past weekend.  The avocados were perfectly ripe and coated the crisp romaine like a dressing.  It had a hint of lime and garlic.

Spicy Lime Chicken and Avocado Salad 

  • 1 head of  romaine lettuce 
  • 2 avocados cubed
  • 1 whole chicken breast, 4 cutlets or 4 to 6 tenderloins 
  • 14 cup of olive oil plus a little more for drizzling
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup water, chicken broth or wine
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • half a shallot
  • juice from 1 and a half limes
  • 1/2 a teaspoon of turkish red pepper
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • salt
  • black pepper or lemon pepper
Soak the romaine leaves in a a sink full of cold water or an extra large bowl.  Cut each leaf vertically along the vein, chop horizontally into bite size pieces, and add to the salad spinner.  Spin until dry.  Toss with cubed avocado and sunflower seeds.  Mince the garlic and shallot.  Add to a small bowl with lime juice.  Add salt to taste and red pepper.  Stir with a fork and add the olive oil in a slow steady stream.   Chop the uncooked chicken into bite size pieces or small cubes.  Toss in a small bowl with a drizzle olive oil, salt, pepper and 3 tablespoons of dressing with garlic and shallot.  Add hot skillet and stir.  When the chicken starts to stick add your choice of cooking liquid (water, stock or wine). toss chicken and dressing to taste with romaine and avocado.