A few nights ago, DearDR finished dinner and said, “You’ve finally learned how to make a good salad.”
No, I did not stick my fork in his eye, but I can see why you would ask.
My husband’s family takes their salad very seriously. Iceberg lettuce is anathema to these people. Even romaine is not kindly looked upon; DearDR thinks it’s too bitter. Conversely, I have seen my FIL consume an entire salad of nothing but escarole greens (a.k.a. endive).
The base of the salad is, of course, salad greens. Mixed field greens or baby salad greens are preferred. Arugula is very popular as an add-in, although DearDR will eat an entire salad of arugula.
Next, pick something crunchy, like carrots or celery. I’m a big proponent of celery. More than one crunchy thing is okay, but not required.
Next, pick something sweet: apples or pears (almost overripe are best) or dried berries or oranges.
Next, pick a fat (or two): nuts or seeds (almond slices, sunflower seeds); and/or a good salad cheese such as feta, goat cheese, bleu or gorgonzola.
My ILs really like onions in their salad, but onions give me heartburn. If you are so inclined, however, go for it.
The trickiest part is the dressing. You will not find Good Seasons Italian or ranch-style dressing here (well, you’ll find ranch for the children to dip their nuggets into). No, the dressing that goes on my IL’s salads is mixed up anew each time.
Vinegar (more than one kind is okay, say red wine and balsamic)
Garlic salt (the “California” variety, with parsley is especially popular)
Salt (ground sea or kosher salt)
Pepper (fresh ground black or gourmet)
Quantities? That’s tough. Usually the oil and vinegar are drizzled over the greens, and everything is added to taste, and tossed. It does take a lot of practice. But I would say start with (depending on how large the salad is) about a 1/4 cup oil to 2 tablespoons of vinegar. That’s for a family-sized salad (or 8-10 people).
If you are looking for tomato and/or cucumber, I don’t know what to tell you. My ILs will sometimes use cucumber as a crunchy thing, but DearDR doesn’t like it, so I seldom have any to hand at home. The tomatoes are exclusively a summer and early fall fruit, and usually end up in a caprese salad (layered bottom to top: tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, basil, chopped garlic, drizzled with olive oil) rather than a tossed salad.
Also, salad is eaten last. I have been at restaurants with my ILs or DearDR, and they set the salad aside until the end of the meal. It probably sounds European or pretentious, but you couldn’t find a less pretentious bunch of salad eaters than my ILs.
I hope that came out right.