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Get creative with salads

It’s the time of year when many of us enjoy eating a salad, especially on a hot, humid day. That’s why May was proclaimed as National Salad Month. But what exactly is a salad?

What comes to mind: Caesar, Waldorf, potato, tuna, pasta? Some even think of it as rabbit food, which perhaps is true, if you think about how salads were prepared back in the day …iceberg lettuce, a slice of onion and cucumber, a wedge of tomato, some shredded carrots, and perhaps an olive or two. Today, many restaurants, especially fast-food restaurants, still prepare it this way.

In years past, salad was served as an appetizer or side dish, with little creativity in its preparation. Remember the salads that included cubes of green Jell-O?  Perhaps, I am dating myself.

Fast forward, and salads today, quite often, take center stage as meals, using a variety of greens, many unbeknownst to most in the past. Arugula seems to be popular and has become a favorite of mine. Watercress, Bok choy, endive, kale and a plethora of lettuces have taken over from plain old iceberg.

Fruits, both fresh and dried, heirloom vegetables (roasted ones add great flavor), seeds, beans, grains, nuts, meats, fish, cheese and easily made, delicious dressings are now part of the ingredient repertoire.

Salads are a time-poor cook’s secret weapon for putting a healthy and delicious meal on the table. They offer endless possibilities; go to your local farmers market and introduce yourself to some unfamiliar greens and vegetables. Ask local farmers for some suggestions, too.

With some creativity, a simple, easy-to-prepare dish becomes a delicious and healthy lunch or dinner. But remember, some salad dressings can add those unnecessary, and unwanted calories.

Many years ago, I met Wiley Mullins (aka “The Salad Man”), author of “Salad Makes the Meal,” published in 2008. He inspired me to add more dinner and lunch salads to my diet. It is quite easy with a cookbook that offers inspiration.

Fresh off the press is “The Salad Lab: Whisk, Toss, Enjoy!” by Darlene Schrijver (2024, Simon Element, $32.50). It is a welcome addition to my collection, especially with all the local produce becoming available.

You might be thinking you don’t need a cookbook to make salad. Perhaps you don’t if you choose not to go beyond tossed greens and a couple of other ingredients. Why not take your salads to the next level, mixing textures and flavors. You’ll learn to incorporate roasted, grilled, sauteed and pickled vegetables, as well as grains, dried and fresh fruit, beans and a variety of pastas.

Before getting into the recipes, the author shares her salad philosophy; for example, embracing variety and experimentation.

She writes: “The experiment section follows every recipe in this book. It’s where I recommend how to swap out polarizing ingredients, seasonal produce, animal products for plant-based products and more.”

The hints on how to shop and what to shop for to make the perfect salad are helpful. I found the “Pantry Control Group” interesting. Here, she has a column listing 16 ingredients, for example salad toppings. Then, two columns follow, one labeled basic, and one luxurious. Under basic she lists pita chips, tortilla chips, Italian bread crumbs, and under luxurious is where she lists plantain chips, sweet potato chips, cheese crisps and rice crackers.

I had the opportunity to interview Darlene.

Q: Why are some people afraid to be creative when making a salad. They just use the same old Iceberg lettuce, a few cherry tomatoes, some onion, etc.?

A: I think there are a few reasons: Historically Iceberg (and if you were lucky in the summer romaine) was all you could get. Today with overnight delivery networks, hydroponics, local greenhouses, expansion of farmers markets, home gardening, plus trending farm to table restaurants, the options are endless.

Like mac and cheese, some foods are just comforting. For salads, you see that with the resurgence of “the wedge” salad in restaurants.

Increases in produce prices are no joke. It’s safer to use what you know. I really support substituting what is in season, on sale, or what you have on hand, and then trying a couple of new ingredients to discover what you like.  I really encourage people to experiment.

Q: Some people don’t prepare salad at home because it doesn’t taste like the ones they have enjoyed at a restaurant. Why is this?

A: Fresh herbs! I can’t emphasize this enough, such a game changer, it brings out the freshness and flavor and makes your salad pop!

Salt, I am a huge Maldon flake sea salt fan. Season your salads with freshly cracked pepper and flake sea salt (it is in almost every recipe). It enhances the flavors.

Say no to bottled dressing, make your own! It makes a huge difference. No preservatives, bad tasting oils or chemical flavors when you make it yourself. You can adjust the level of garlic, mustard and heat/spice to your personal taste.

Q: Salads are sometimes not as healthy as one might think.  Psychologically, people eat a salad and think they will lose weight. What suggestions do you have regarding this?

A: You are absolutely correct, some salads (like ones with french fries on top) are not going to put you in a calorie deficit or lower your bad cholesterol.  I am not a nutritionist nor dietitian, and anyone going on any sort of health or weight loss journey should educate themselves on that topic.

My platform is about having fun making salads, and hopefully a side benefit is people enjoy, experiment and create more meals with fresh vegetables and protein. I don’t know too many people that have gotten sick from including a larger variety of vegetables in their meals (unless they have allergy issues and there are always substitutes).

Q: What separates your book from the other salad cookbooks in the market?

A: There is something for everyone! Our “salad community” is very diverse, and I have included an experiment section for each recipe that has some substitution recommendations for vegans, vegetarians and hard-to-find ingredients.

From beginning cooks to experienced ones, I have recommendations on how to fill your pantry full of ingredients to have on hand from must haves to the luxurious for a salad.  It includes my style of recipes for most of the favorites you see at family gatherings and on menus, destination salads from different states like Hawaiian Poke salad, and countries like a West African style citrus and avocado salad.

There are seasonal and holiday salads, including one that is a whole Thanksgiving dinner, and the perfect colorful wedding salad with both roasted and fresh vegetables for everyone, including vegans (it’s the book’s cover), a few fabulous celebrity favorites that helped launch my platform, plus my favorite section called, “Everything is a Salad” where I have created favorites like fish tacos, grinder sandwiches, and pizza into a salad too.

My goal in writing this book was to share the fun and joy of preparing your own salads, and experiencing them with others. I tell my kids, everyone needs a hobby, why can’t it be making salads?  Experiment!

Watermelon Feta Salad is surprisingly fabulous in every way, blending sweet, salty, spicy, and savory in one delicious bite. (Photo by Erin Kunkel)
Watermelon Feta Salad is surprisingly fabulous in every way, blending sweet, salty, spicy, and savory in one delicious bite. (Photo by Erin Kunkel)

For the recipe for Watermelon Feta Salad, visit https://bit.ly/4cgPaym.

Doradito Salad is a little trip down memory lane as it includes Doritos as one of its ingredients. (Photo by Erin Kunkel)
Doradito Salad is a little trip down memory lane as it includes Doritos as one of its ingredients. (Photo by Erin Kunkel)

Doradito Salad

The headnote says: “Who doesn’t love Doritos? Called ‘a swinging Latin sort of snack’ when first advertised in the 1960s, Doritos are still the number one chip in the United States today. Fun fact: the name combines the Spanish words doradito and dorado, both of which describe fried golden things. They are considered comfort food for some. and almost everyone has some sort of teenage flashback related to these cheesy corn chips. This salad recipe is a little trip down memory lane. I put the Salad Lab twist on the dressing and replaced the traditional bottled, syrupy Catalina dressing (yikes) with this lighter homemade one (yum). We also enjoy a little more spice in our house, so I used chorizo and pickled jalapeños instead of the classic ’taco meat.’”

Serves 4 as a meal or 6-10 as a side

Ingredients:

START OUT

1 ½ cups fresh Mexican chorizo (not cured), casings removed if necessary

Ice water

¼ cup diced red onion (1⁄4-inch pieces)

1 cup quartered cherry tomatoes, or substitute what looks best at the market

WHISK

1 teaspoon pressed garlic

1⁄3 cup avocado oil

¼ cup red wine vinegar

¼ cup ketchup

3 tablespoons grated yellow or red onion

2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon celery seed

1 teaspoon sweet paprika

1 teaspoon chili powder

Flaky sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

TOSS

4 cups chopped iceberg lettuce (bite-size pieces)

4 cups chopped romaine lettuce (bite-size pieces)

1 ½ cups crushed Nacho Cheese Doritos (bite-size pieces)

1 cup cooked or rinsed and drained canned pinto beans

1 cup cubed avocado (½ inch pieces)

1⁄3 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese

1⁄3 cup grated medium-sharp cheddar cheese

¼  cup drained pickled jalapeño slices

Nacho Cheese Doritos, for serving (optional)

EXPERIMENT: Try substituting this dressing with the Cilantro Lime Dressing on page 251. There are so many canned beans available now; experiment with black beans, Great Northern beans or black-eyed peas. Use any lettuce you like or already have. If you don’t like spicy or are not a chorizo fan, substitute ground turkey or beef prepared with taco seasoning. If you like to eat the salad as a dip, don’t crush the chips and toss them in; use them as your spoon instead.

Directions:

START OUT: Heat a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Line a plate with paper towels. When the pan is hot, add the chorizo. Cook, stirring occasionally and breaking up the meat in small, bite-size pieces using a spatula, until well browned and cooked through, 6 to 9 minutes. Transfer to the prepared plate with a slotted spoon to drain. Meanwhile, fill a 500-ml beaker or a small glass bowl halfway with ice water and add the diced onion. Soak for 10 minutes, then drain and pat the onion dry. Place the tomatoes in a colander and gently press down with a spoon to drain off excess liquid.

WHISK: Rinse the pressed garlic in a very fine mesh strainer and shake off any excess water. In a large salad bowl, combine the garlic, oil, vinegar, ketchup, grated onion, sugar, Worcestershire sauce, celery seed, paprika, and chili powder and season with salt and pepper. Whisk until well combined, then taste and adjust the seasoning if needed.

TOSS: In the bowl with the dressing, add the iceberg lettuce, romaine lettuce, crushed Doritos, beans, avocado, jack cheese, cheddar cheese, jalapeños, chorizo, diced onion, and tomatoes. Toss until all the ingredients are evenly combined and coated with dressing and serve. If you want to get fancy, garnish with extra chips around the bowl.

ENJOY: I’m having it with a merlot or soda.

Red, White and Blue Potato Salad is for all the potato lovers out there looking for a great alternative to the classic mayonnaise-based potato salad. (Photo by Erin Kunkel)
Red, White and Blue Potato Salad is for all the potato lovers out there looking for a great alternative to the classic mayonnaise-based potato salad. (Photo by Erin Kunkel)

Red, White, and Blue Potato Salad

The headnote says: “Everyone loves potatoes. The average American eats 120 pounds of potatoes each year. That’s double the amount of the next largest consumed vegetable, lettuce. Hey, that’s a lot of salads; maybe I should make more potato salads? This one is for all the potato lovers out there looking for a great alternative to the classic mayonnaise-based potato salad (find my version on page 48). I love the rich buttery texture of the mixed potatoes paired with the Meyer lemon, dill, and chive dressing. It’s one of my favorites to accompany a meal on a hot summer day.”

Serves 8-12 as a side

Ingredients:

START OUT

Flaky sea salt

3 pounds mixed baby red, Yukon gold, and purple potatoes

Ice water

½ cup diced shallot (1⁄4-inch pieces)

WHISK

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

¼  cup fresh Meyer lemon or regular lemon juice (remember to zest first)

¼ cup finely chopped fresh chives

3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flatleaf parsley

1 teaspoon white wine vinegar

1 teaspoon lightly packed grated Meyer lemon zest or regular lemon zest

Flaky sea salt and freshly

cracked black pepper

TOSS

Flaky sea salt, for serving (optional)

Directions:

START OUT: Fill a large pot half full of water and lightly salt the water. Over high heat, bring to a boil, add the potatoes, then cover and lower the heat to medium low or a soft boil. Cook until you can easily pierce the potatoes with a fork all

the way to the center, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the potatoes from the pot, drain, and let cool. Cut into quarters or 3⁄4-inch pieces.

Meanwhile, fill a 250-ml beaker or a small glass bowl halfway with ice water and add the shallot. Soak for 10 minutes, then drain and pat the shallot dry.

WHISK: In a large salad bowl, combine the oil, lemon juice, chives, dill, parsley, vinegar, and zest and season with salt and pepper. Whisk until well combined, then taste and adjust the seasoning if needed.

TOSS: In the bowl with the dressing, add the potatoes and shallot. Gently toss until all the ingredients are evenly combined and coated with dressing. Let sit covered at room temperature for 20 minutes, or refrigerate overnight, so the potatoes can absorb the dressing (this salad can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 5 days). Serve cold or at room temperature, garnished with flaky sea salt, if you like.

ENJOY: I’m having it with sparkling wine or lemonade.

EXPERIMENT: Head to your local farmers’ market and try the many varieties of potatoes available there, as they often have the best flavor. I have made this many times with all baby red potatoes. You can also substitute sweet yellow or red onions if shallots are not available. Don’t forget this one for Independence Day!

Recipes excerpted from “The Salad Lab,” copyright 2024, Darlene Schrijver. Photography copyright 2023 by Erin Kunkel. Reproduced by permission of Simon Element, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, LLC. All rights reserved.

Stephen Fries is professor emeritus and former coordinator of the Hospitality Management Programs at Gateway Community College in New Haven, Conn. He has been a food and culinary travel columnist for the past 16 years and is co-founder of and host of “Worth Tasting,” a culinary walking tour of downtown New Haven. He is a board member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals. Email him at Stephen@stephenfries.com. For more, go to stephenfries.com.


Source: Berkshire mont

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