Everyday Salads

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I bring or offer to bring salads wherever we go. If it were up to me, my minivan would have the following features:

  • A built-in car seat that converts as kids grow, can be removed later, and frees me from the guilt of buckling it in wrong.
  • A little composting bin for orange peels, apple cores, and compostable coffee cups.
  • Hell. While we're at it, a spigot for coffee.
  • A long mechanical arm that reaches back to pick Loretta's lip gloss off the floor when she drops it or takes away a toy that's being fought over.
  • And yes, a hollowed-out, covered, and secure slot for my favorite salad bowl so I can take it everywhere without worrying about spillage.

In the sixteen years we've lived in Seattle, I wish I had tallied up all the potlucks we've been to. I've spent many hours pulling over to check on a full pot of soup sloshing around or balancing a cake on my lap while Yancey takes corners. But I usually bring green salads because:

  • I almost always have the ingredients to make them.
  • They're easy to transport.
  • I am never, ever without ingredients to make salad dressing.
  • Salad isn't hummus (ubiquitous at every Puget Sound gathering).
  • My salads are better than anyone else's.

Did I really just say that? It's not true. Lots of my friends can make salads as good as mine, but they learned from me. There. How's that? My salads aren't fancy, but I've learned lots of tricks throughout the years that make them deliciously foolproof every time. Here is yet another bulleted list. I think it might be long. Don't let that scare you. I just have lots of opinions.

  • I'm a fan of the pre-washed cello bags of greens. They make lots of things easier. But they're expensive. If you're bringing unwashed greens home, wash them right away, lay them out on a length of paper towel, roll the towel up, and put the whole bundle in a ziploc bag. They'll stay fresh for well over a week and be ready for salad-making whenever you are.
  • My basic dressing is kosher salt, freshly ground pepper, one part white or red vinegar or lemon juice, and three parts extra virgin olive oil. So that, I might add some dijon or fresh herbs. Or maybe garlic or smoked paprika, depending on what kind of salad I'm making. If you want to make a creamy dressing, add a teaspoon of mayo (it doesn't take much) and you'll get a beautifully clingy dressing.
  • When my herbs are growing, they all go in (except sage). Right now, I am putting big, soft mint leaves in everything. I use them like I would a lettuce leaf. Same with celery leaves, beet tops.
  • Color! I work as hard to make my salads colorful as I do to make them tasty.
  • Toasted nuts are almost always in my salads--walnuts, almonds, pecans. If you're allergic to nuts, sunflower seeds, pepitas, or homemade croutons.
  • This one might be most important. I try to think of a forkful of salad and being able to get every ingredient in one bite. That means no giant, thick rounds of carrot or big wheels of cucumber. So I'll use a vegetable peeler to shave carrot into the salad or cut my cucumber into matchsticks. You want everything cut to manageable--not necessarily uniform--size. 
  • The bowl you pick is important, too. Try to use something shallow that just fits the ingredients so you can see everything and it looks abundant. A little pile of chopped vegetables in the bottom of a narrow bowl never made anyone feel like eating healthy.
  • Protein. Not always, but most the time there's something else in there--cheese, hard boiled egg, chickpeas. And if I'm really feeling ambitious or it's a main dish salad, maybe bacon, bits of crispy chorizo, or some roasted chicken or smoked salmon. 
  • Toss everything in your dressing right before serving, using your hands and mixing very gently. This will coat everything and ensure that you don't use too much dressing.

We're entering salad season, which I'm thrilled about. Let's get to it!

Everyday Salad
For the salad pictured, use about 6 cups of washed greens to line a shallow bowl. Whatever ingredients you add, keep a tiny bit separate so you can garnish the top. Add a handful of toasted walnuts, a couple handfuls of mint leaves, half a thinly sliced red pepper. With a vegetable peeler, shave one large, peeled carrot and some parmesan into the greens. Toss gently with your dressing (see above) and garnish with a few of your reserved ingredients. Happy Spring!