Yes, I can occasionally be caught live in the kitchen. Look quick.
When growing up, my dinner task was making the salad. My mom bought the goods and I prepared them to her exacting specifications. As a result, I am very, shall we say, anal about salads.
A clean vegetable is a happy eater. Wash as far down as possible, wash as far up as possible, then, wash ‘possible.’ That maxim goes for many things.
Anyone who uses iceberg lettuce or put the leaf spine in a salad should be shot. (or maybe, er, reeducated.) Use red-leaf, romaine or butter leaf lettuce or some combination thereof. Spinach is also yummy.
Buy the right mushrooms. Get the ones that are closed at the junction between the body and the stem. If you buy the white ones, don’t buy them if they have dark spots. Cut the stems off but not so far down as to where you can see the inside of the body.
Use red onions and/or scallions, because they look prettier and taste better than yellow or white onions. Cut most of the flower of the scallions off because they are bland. The root is the good part.
Bell peppers are mandatory and when I’m the only one eating the salad or am sure of my audience, I will add chopped Serrano chili pepper in my salad. (You folks who are not from the southwest part of the US or are not of Mexican descent might not know what a Serrano is. It’s a little, tiny green pepper that is hot. I like hot, but if you like HOT, try a Habanero pepper. Make sure to wear gloves while you’re chopping those.)
Two of the ingredients that my mom didn’t require, but I usually use now are: carrots and cucumbers. Yes, peeling them is a pain—and please peel the cuck—but, boy, do they give great texture and taste to the salad. Split the cuck down the middle, by the way.
Sometimes I will top the salad with canned crab. There are two places here in LA from which I’ve bought the crab: Food for Less and Trader Joe’s. The FFL version is cheaper and the TJ’s version is prettier, but they both taste about the same. Sometimes I’ll rinse off canned beans or corn and add those. I don’t put anything heavier than that in a salad. Chicken, beef and pork are for the main course.
Croutons and bacon bits are masks for a salad prepared by a lazy salad-maker. If your ingredients are good, fresh and varied, you don’t need these, unless you like them.
No yellow, orange or white dressings should be used. Hey, if you want to hide the taste of your salad, just tear up some iceberg, chop up a big, fat tomato and pour Thousand Island all over it. Blech. I like a non-obnoxious Caesar or just some olive oil mixed with balsamic vinegar.
If you must put some seasoning on your salad, a bit of Mrs. Dash will do the trick; oh, and black pepper.
What did I forget? Tomatoes, of course, are required; cherry types cut in half. Full-sized tomatoes will make the salad go bad faster (too much liquid).
If you think salads are boring, you’re missing out on one of the great pleasures of eating. Time, attention and varied ingredients are all that are required. Don’t forget to make it beautiful as well. Eating is almost as much about the eye as it is about the tongue. So sue me for being a look-ist.
Juliette Akinyi Ochieng blogs at baldilocks. Her first novel, Tale of the Tigers: Love is Not a Game, was published in 2009; the second edition in 2012. Her new novel, Arlen’s Harem, is due in 2014. Help her fund it and help keep her blog alive!