The dinner salad profile has morphed amazingly in the last 30 years. Sweeping popularity of the Cesar Salad brought romaine lettuce to the market as a shining star. It had been available prior to the Cesar rage, but few shoppers chose it over iceberg lettuce. I can remember romaine nestled in with some wilting heads of red and green lettuces at the grocery store. A few got purchased and the rest ended up in the back of a pickup that hauled food to the pigs.
Pigs, chickens, and assorted farm animals ate the nutritious green stuff and the rest of us filled up on iceberg lettuce.
Fast-forward a few decades: We know better!
Not only are fresh greens displayed like works of art in the markets, but many of us are willing to try any edible young green in a salad. While my parents saw no use for a pea tendril except to anchor the pea vine to the trellis, I now see it as choice addition to a bright green salad. Who knew that tender young chard could be so succulent in a winter salad? Thirty years ago the few people who used arugula were Italian immigrants. Now “arugula” is a household word. We’ve come a long way!
We can go further still. Forward movement is still needed in how we dress our salads. Yes, ranch dressing will always be a favorite, especially when homemade. Oil and vinegar will live on and zesty vinaigrettes will remain staples.
The new frontier in salad dressings is the seasonings we choose when blending the dressings and dressing the greens.
When my mother served a meal the salad was oh so predictable: a wedge of iceberg with a plop of bottled Thousand Island dressing. The memory still sets my teeth on edge. It was several years into my own homemaking before I could think of salad as a fine addition to the menu.
It was so liberating to discover that cuisines world-wide have been serving a myriad of salads, probably since cuisines took shape eons ago. In combing through archives of inspiring salad recipes, I have found nothing like what my mother served. Where did iceberg come from anyway?
The dressing below comes from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi. It’s adapted a bit — well, quite a bit. However, Yotam is into improvising. I know he would be pleased. He is my current great inspiration for trying new flavors. My mother would be pleased too, if she were still with us. She was an artist, cooking not being her artistic expression. She did love a good meal.
Serve this salad to appeal visually to any artist at your table. The bright flavors will shake you out of food boredom and the crunchy textures will so complement soft rice, grain or bean dishes. What a winner! Mix it up and feel like a total salad pro.
The bulk of the ingredients in this salad get harvested together in the fall garden. Apparently the same is true in London where Yotam works his magic in the famous Ottolenghi restaurant. Use whatever greens you love and can find. With this dressing, you just can’t miss.
The blanching can be done hours ahead or even a day ahead of assembling the salad. Keep the blanched vegetables in an air-tight container in the refrigerator until you are ready to finish the salad making. Best results come from adding the dressing and adding the fresh greens just prior to meal time.
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