Some Spring in Your Salad

When it comes to salad, one of the world’s favorite foods yet overlooked almost always anyway, it’s strictly a matter of the Three Ts. Taste, Texture – and Toss. Put the Three Ts into practice and you won’t be so tempted to overlook salad again.

There are famous salads galore, of course – from Caesar to Waldorf to Cobb, not even counting chicken salad, potato salad, shrimp salad or cole slaw – and virtually anything you might consider is fair game as a main ingredient. Still, if asked to name the most essential ingredient, the one that actually gives us the word “salad” handed down from the Romans, most would be hesitant to guess. To be a salad, literally and linguistically, means having not lettuce but… salt!

Romans, especially those who took part in year after year of military campaigns on behalf of various Caesars (no, not the salad), were terrific at living off the land. Long term, they were adept at planting vineyards so they could make wine, a trick they learned from Alexander’s Greeks. But short term, they found that gathering greens and other vegetables from whatever field, hillside or forest was handy was one way to keep Roman body and soul together.

Sometimes they had vinegar, which was after all a “next generation” of their wine. But when all else failed, they had salt. Sprinkle on some salt and even the most boring raw vegetable had decent flavor.

Thus they called the mixtures they made, essentially, “salted.”    According to Oxford University, which certainly ought to know, the Latin word “salata” morphed into “salade” in Old French and either “salad” or “sallet” in Old English. And we are so happy it did.

Now about those Three Ts.

TASTE: Every traditionally constructed salad involves the tastes of at least two things: the raw vegetables and the dressing. That begins with the lettuce, which has two of the Ts even before it gets the third one. Some lettuces are crisp (like romaine and the much-abused iceberg) and some are soft (like Boston or lamb). They can also taste “cold,” largely flavorless, like those first two, or “hot” and peppery like arugula or chicory. Dressings often come down to a radio of oil to vinegar, which is up to you. We usually go with 50/50.

TEXTURE: We typically like more texture, not less. The way to get that, in a perfect world, is to start with a mix of lettuces. Romaine is a terrific base, but into each life might fall some spring mix, or some red leaf, or even a little shredded red cabbage. The less you’re going to eat in addition to your salad, the more texture can be satisfying. Tomato and cucumber are classics, but we seldom reject shredded carrots. Thinly sliced red onion is wonderful as well.

TOSS: Tossing a salad is essential, so that each item, each crinkly curve of each lettuce leaf, gets a uniform kiss of dressing.  We’ve been served enough salads with a big ladle’s worth of dressing on top to last us a lifetime. We’ll take making our own and tossing it all together as a deal we can feel good about.

CHAMPAGNE HONEY MUSTARD GREEN SALAD

A key to anything worth being called a salad dressing is the process known as “emulsification,” by why whisking or beaten turns several things with different weights and consistencies into one delicious thing. It has to do with molecules and chemical bonds, naturally – but what you’ll remember is what we consider the best mustard in the world. We can thank the French for teaching us to use “moutarde” to help emulsify salad dressing.

½ cup rice vinegar

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

¼ cup Fischer & Wieser’s Champagne Honey Mustard

Salt and black pepper

1 cup cherry tomatoes

1 cucumber, chopped

½ red onion, thinly sliced

6 cups chopped romaine lettuce

Toasted croutons

In a bowl, prepare the dressing by whisking together the vinegar, olive oil and mustard until emulsified. Season with salt and pepper. In a large salad bowl, combine all remaining ingredients and toss with the dressing. Serve in salad bowls. Serves 4-6.

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