Salad rules

As you can tell, I’ve been busy. My mom commented, on our weekly call Sunday morning, that she knew I’d been busy because one week I posted a recipe without photos, and the next week I added photos but no new recipe. Some of this is the time of the semester, some is what is happening in our country and world, and some is just that, even when I do have a free half hour or hour to devote to the kitchen, I don’t have a second (or third) to take and edit photos, or even to brainstorm a new dish that seems, as I like to put it, “blogworthy.” Combine that with the final dregs of summer weather Los Angeles is throwing at me, and I’m stuck on a loop of old, reliable meals, when all I really want to do, I realized yesterday at the point that our car thermometer read 92F in the Costco parking lot, is bake.

So this isn’t a recipe so much as a method. One of my go-tos for warm weather in the past few months has been a big chopped salad. It’s quick, it’s satisfying, it doesn’t heat up the kitchen, and it’s a great way to use up the last few whatevers you have knocking around in the fridge. Nothing fancy or difficult about it, and no set recipe – mine are always slightly different, but in making these semi-monthly since last spring, I’ve realized a few key components that result in a really good, satisfying salad, so that’s what I’m prepared to offer you today.

1.) you need a mixture of greens. Ours this weekend sported four kinds: romaine, arugula, spinach, and thinly shredded cabbage. That is perhaps a bit excessive, but the combination of lettuce varieties is really key, and the cabbage in particular is the extra I won’t go without. I like red cabbage best, but that’s more for the dramatic color than any significant flavor difference.

2.) fresh vegetables. Tomatoes and cucumbers are standards, but I love thinly sliced radishes in many things, and a big salad is no exception. Sugar snap or snow peas would be perfect too, and sometimes I like chives, or the greens of green onions, very thinly sliced. Canned vegetables like drained and rinsed artichoke hearts are also a good addition.

3.) blanched green beans. I know, another vegetable, but this is a separate requirement because it adds something different and, to me, utterly necessary. Just drop a handful in salted, boiling water for no more than 90 seconds, then rinsed or cooled in an ice bath until you are ready to add them to the salad. The combination of raw and cooked vegetables is a nice contrast.

4.) some kind of pickled vegetable. We’ve done fresh, we’ve done cooked; the briny pickle crunch keeps the salad exciting. I like a sprinkling of pickled onions, but if I have pickled carrots or radishes or green beans, that works too. Last night I had none of these, so I settled on thinly slicing a few cornichons, and though this wasn’t my favorite option, it did the job.

5.) sliced hard boiled egg. Enough said.

6.) meat and cheese, or, if you don’t do meat, some well seasoned tempeh crumbles would do nicely here. I like chiffonaded salami the best, but I’ve also been happy with strips of grilled chicken. I want the cheese to be cut in small cubes, and to be something medium-soft and creamy, like a gouda or fontina, to add a different texture.

7.) something crunchy that is not a vegetable. This ranges for us from toasted walnuts to croutons to well oiled and browned breadcrumbs, but the starch- or nut-based crunch, especially if the nuts or croutons are slightly warm, is so welcome.

8.) a tart but creamy dressing. My favorite is a squeeze of Dijon and honey – just a teaspoon or two – whisked up with some cider vinegar or lemon juice, and a few tablespoons of mayonnaise. Maybe some grinds of black pepper. Make the dressing just a hair more acidic than you think you’ll want, since look at all the components it will be flavoring! The tartness will be cut once it’s draped across cheese and greens and nuts and everything else.

There. Pile, stack, dress, toss, and you have the perfect salad. All you need now is a cold glass of rose, and the rest of the weekend back…

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