It was said of Cleopatra that her every movement was fresh and original, so it is with salads.
In my earlier days, I found a salad I loved but unfortunately cannot remember the ingredients. I know I tasted this deliciousness at a restaurant that was a competitor of my family’s restaurant in Detroit. The other restaurant, Greenfields, was right down the block, and apparently, we weren’t supposed to eat there — but if we did, we weren’t supposed to enjoy it.
Greenfields was a cafeteria (they were novel at the time) and my aunts liked cafeterias. My aunts would take off from their place after lunch hour and explore local (downtown) restaurants and cafeterias. I loved to go with them because I could order what I wanted without my watchful mother saying, “That’s not for you,” meaning it wasn’t fresh enough or it wasn’t pure enough (heaven knows what went into her meatloaf!).
Thus began my love of salads and dressings. Of course, almost anything can be a salad, hot or cold. A salad is meant to refresh. To begin a meal with a crisp, zesty start; to compose a meal on a hot day; to mop up the sauces of the remains of a savory roast; to feature a particular food item surrounded with enhancements that highlight that item.
The encyclopedic nature of ingredients boggles the mind and engages the imagination in combination with availability and ease of preparation. Perhaps, you too have your favorite salad discovery and would like to share. Just send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The following are four salads I consider tops in my catalog of all-time favorites. I have found them to be show-stoppers, with guests licking the platters and demanding recipes. They are not the easiest to prepare, but they are worthwhile as far as effort is concerned.
This salad is the most beautiful to look at and perhaps one of the most popular in my house. It first came to me in the city of Nice, where it is sold along the seashore by young boys carrying heavy bags strapped across their bodies. The boys would shout “Pan Bagna for sale,” as they trudged across the rocky beaches of the Mediterranean Sea. Sun beating down, gentle breezes wafting, selling this treasure of France and Italy: it was a tuna sandwich on a crusty baguette with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, olives and an olive oil dressing, wrapped in waxed paper and smelling like Provence on the Rheine.
I later realized this was a carry-away version of the most beautifully composed Salade Nicoise. It is easy to put together and can include different vegetables, depending on what you have on hand. You don’t like green beans? Try broccoli, brussels sprouts or sugar snap peas. If you don’t like romaine lettuce, use another kind. Tuna not your favorite? Use salmon, sardines or chicken. The best part is it looks and tastes terrific, and your guests will be amazed at your culinary talent.
- 2 cans tuna in oil (not the white tuna)
- 3 pounds small potatoes (tricolor or brown) or ½ pint of premade potato salad
- 1 pound green beans, ends trimmed
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 4 8-minute, hard-boiled eggs
- 2 tomatoes, sliced or ½ pound cherry tomatoes
- 1-2 full stalks romaine lettuce
- ½ can of olives (assorted or Kalamata preferred)
Vinaigrette Dressing Ingredients – see recipe below
- 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (virgin olive oil will work if extra virgin is not available)
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- 1 Glass jar with a tight cover
Chop onion and divide into two batches. Add ½ batch of onions to the green beans. Place green beans, onions and ¼ inch of water in a microwave-safe bowl, cover and cook in microwave for 2½ minutes. Beans should be crunchy. Lightly toss with dressing (see recipe below). Set aside for composing the salad. By the way, if you don’t like green beans, use asparagus, and you can hold the onions if you prefer.
Set uncooked eggs with shells in a pot of cold water. Turn on the heat and bring to boil. From start to finish, eggs should cook for eight minutes. Rinse under cold water, shell immediately. Set aside for composing the salad.
Boil potatoes until they pierce easily with a fork, you do not need to peel them. Rinse with water and cool. Mix potatoes with onions, lightly toss with dressing (see recipe below). Set aside for composing the salad. May be done one day ahead and refrigerated.
- Add crushed garlic
- Add olive oil
- Add balsamic vinegar
- Cover and shake jar
- Open and add mustard, chopped basil and/or parsley leaves (optional)
- Cover and shake jar
- Add salt and pepper to taste
- Shake again just before pouring
Now the fun begins! Composing the salad is when your artistry has the chance to shine. There’s not much you have to do to make this salad look lovely.
- On a large platter, lay out enough whole leaves of romaine lettuce to cover the surface.
- In the center, place the tuna in oil.
- Using the above photo as a reference, layout remaining ingredients in pie shapes on a platter. Smaller pie shapes enable you to put the same components on opposite sides of the platter. Fill in around the tuna platter with green beans, potato salad, tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs and Kalamata olives. You can add other fresh vegetables such as avocado or cooked cauliflower or even anchovies if you have a brave crowd.
- Lightly pour vinaigrette dressing over entire platter. Serve remainder of vinaigrette on the side for guests to add as they prefer.
- Serve to an appreciative, hungry group with fresh, crunchy French bread.
I must give credit for this easy and delicious salad to a friend from Tarpon Springs. This salad is so delicious it tastes like it must be complicated to make. I promise you it is not.
- 2 cups precooked orzo
- 1 can black beans, 14 ounces, rinsed
- 1 cup feta cheese, crumbled
- 1 can garbanzo beans, 14 ounces, rinsed
- 1 cup Kalamata olives
- 1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped
- Greek salad dressing
Place top six ingredients in a large bowl. Pour ½ cup of Greek salad dressing and mix ingredients. Adjust dressing to preference, cover and refrigerate overnight for best results. Spread extra chopped basil on top just before serving. Don’t expect leftovers.
Oriental Noodle Salad
I am a nut for Asian food. I don’t know why, but next to ice cream, there are no dishes I crave as much.
This particular salad is an invention I’ve shared with many friends who scarfed it up like it was disappearing from the Earth. Initially, I planned for noodles, but when I found I didn’t have any, I used ramen. Guess what. It worked.
- 1 tablespoon oil, olive or canola
- 2 tablespoons green onions, chopped
- 1 tablespoon garlic, chopped
- 1-2 packs seasoning from ramen package
- 1 1/2 cups dished turkey, chicken, ham, pork, shrimp, or a mixture of all
- 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, chopped
- 1/2 cup frozen peas
- 2 cups bean sprouts
- 1 red bell pepper, sliced in circles
- Boil ramen noodles for 3 minutes, according to package directions. Set aside.
- Stir fry all ingredients except noodles for three minutes in a wok or large frying pan. Remove from heat, add noodles and mix. Set aside to cool.
- Line a large platter or bowl with romaine, pile the noodle mixture on top.
- Pour Oriental salad dressing (recipe below) over the entire platter. Toss until well distributed. Garnish with cilantro and circles of red peppers.
Oriental Salad Dressing
- 2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce or light (as opposed to dark) soy
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
- 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled
- 1-3 teaspoons Chinese hot chili oil (Optional)
- 1/4 cup sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
- 1 tablespoon ketchup
- 1/4 cup canola oil
- 3 cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 tablespoons smooth peanut butter (preferably without sugar)
- 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
- Place all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor, blender or Bullet and process until a smooth mixture is formed.
- Pour over noodle salad and toss gently.
- You may make the salad dressing ahead, but it is best to dress your Oriental Salad just before serving because the noodles soak up the dressing quickly.
Today, there is much talk about the health value of broccoli. A dear friend’s daughter-in-law, Susan, who is an innovative cook, gave me this recipe. I often bring it to cookouts or potluck events. People gobble it up not realizing its health benefits.
My son likes to try new things. He added orange-flavored cranberries and garlic. Play with the recipe yourself based on what you like and have on hand.
- 2 packages of broccoli slaw (now available at most markets)
- 2-3 tablespoons dried onion flakes
- 1/2-1 cup. dry roasted peanuts or roast almonds
- 1 jar Marzetti’s slaw dressing, refrigerated
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 4 ounces dried, orange-flavored cranberries
- Place all ingredients except nuts in a large bowl.
- Mix and take wherever you are serving it. Carry the nuts separately; they tend to lose their crunch when they sit in the salad too long.
- When ready to serve, sprinkle nuts on top and toss.