If a survey was taken, one of the most frequently ordered items (by women) from a menu would have to be salad. Not only are they popular at lunch time, but also as an entrée (usually topped with chicken or seafood) frequently selected for their dinner meals.
It used to be that a salad was a salad — they were mostly made with iceberg lettuce and topped with a few radishes, carrots and tomatoes and served with the usual French, Italian or Thousand Island dressing. That was our only choice and they were never ordered as a single meal, but served in a small dish along side your meat entrée.
Today the selection is endless. They don’t come in a small bowl anymore, but rather a large soup type bowl. As for the salad dressing there is a wide array of choices. In fact, sometimes the choice is wider than the entrees on the menu.
Most salads are ordered because the customer is watching their weight. This concept is correct since the base of the salad is made-up of veggies which are healthy. But remember, you need to watch what type of dressing you put on them because it’s the high-fat additives in dressing that are the diet busters!
A variety to choose from
Iceberg lettuce is still the #1 staple for salads made at home due to the fact it is less expensive than a fancy assortment (average price is 99 cents). You very seldom see it in restaurants other than salad bars, because iceberg is not only cheap but it can be soaked in water with preservatives to keep it from turning brown, allowing them to keep it longer.
Upscale restaurants use a fresh mixture of baby greens or romaine, which are personally my favorites. Romaine has dark to light green leaves that form long slender bunches and has a very mild flavor as well as being wonderfully crisp.
Iceberg is purchased in round heads and Romaine is bought in various-sized bunches. Often packages of just the hearts are available and considered the most delicate and flavorful portion of the head.
When you buy Romaine by the bunch, the outer leaves are dark green which are tough and have a stronger flavor. The lighter green leaves are more delicate and milder in taste (even though the darker the leaf, the more nutrients).
I very seldom purchase organic fresh vegetables both due to the cost and, as far as I am concerned, there is little difference in the taste. The one exception to this rule is a Romaine lettuce which, unfortunately, I can only find in Wilmington at Kroger. It is sold in a plastic shell container and is called Organic Farm Bound Romaine Leaves, and contains 9 ounces of Romaine hearts. They are always very crisp and fresh and keep 10-14 days without getting brown which is exceptional.
Some of the fancier selections of lettuces include Boston, Butter crunch, Bibb and Red Leaf.
The first three are formed of small round heads with loose leaves opposite of iceberg. While these varieties have delicate leaves, unfortunately they do not keep as long as iceberg or Romaine.
Rather than lettuce, Spinach a very popular salad ingredient — it is actually a “green.” A spinach salad is usually served with a hot bacon dressing. Spinach, like all “dark green” greens and vegetables, contains the most iron and nutrients.
Pre-packaged lettuce comes in many assortments, including iceberg with carrots and radishes, Italian Blend, Caesar, and Baby Greens as well as many other mixtures.
Personally I have two complaints with plastic packaged blends. First, to me, the lettuce has a processed taste which is not pleasant to the taste buds (almost like the plastic package). Second, I find the shelf life of these brands to be very short.
Once the package has been opened, the remainder goes bad quickly. This usually is caused by three things. The processing of pre-packed mixtures often require preservatives which gives the lettuce the strange taste. Since the lettuce is pre-cut it is hard to prevent the brown edges caused by the cutting process. This is a common problem when lettuce is touched by metal.
Lastly, most of the pre-packaged mixture is made up of various types of lettuce and other salad ingredients, each having a different shelf life, and when one goes bad, the remainder goes bad. If you are in a crunch and need something fast, this could be your answer, but don’t count on it if you are preparing a high-quality salad.
My last comment on salad making is you need to realize that any lettuce placed on a salad bar has been rinsed in water that contains preservatives. If you tend to have stomach distress after eating off of a salad bar you may have an allergy to these preservatives, such as MSG. This explains why sometimes you can eat at a salad bar without any problems but other times you may come down with a gastric problem.
Today, I have decided to pass on to you a couple of my favorite salad dressings. By changing the dressing on various mixtures of greens, you can totally change the taste of your salad.
CURRY MAYONNAISE DRESSING
This dressing is a rich creamy dressing with a wonderful curry taste. For a tasty topping to this dressing, top with crumbled blue cheese.
1 Cup mayonnaise (not Miracle Whip)
1 Cup Sour Cream
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
½ – 1 teaspoon curry (to taste)
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon finely grated onion
1-2 Tablespoon cream
In a blender, blend all of the ingredients (except cream) for about 2 minutes. Slowly add just enough cream to achieve a rich creamy texture. This dressing makes a wonderful vegetable dip. Store in the refrigerator in a sealed jar.
The second recipe is for a sweetened oil and vinegar salad dressing flavored with celery seeds. It came from Galyn’s House, a distinctive restaurant in Bar Harbor, Maine. I often ask for recipes from eateries when on vacation, and this one chef obliged. The first part of the recipe is the original given to me from Galyn’s. This recipe contains a few “tweaks” that I have added (which I am famous for). Store the dressing in a large container with a lid. Store in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 weeks.
GALYN’S HOUSE DRESSING
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon paprika
1 Tablespoon celery seeds
1 ½ Tablespoon dry mustard
1 Teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¾ Cup vinegar
3 Tablespoon grated onion
2/3 Cup water
1 ¼ Cup sugar
2 ¼ Cup canola oil
Place all ingredients (except oil) into a blender and blend on low for 3-4 minutes until sugar is completely blended. With blender turned on low, slowly add oil in a stream until all has been added and dressing is well blended. It will have a milky appearance when completely mixed. Store in covered jar.
This makes about 1 quart salad dressing and keeps very well.
NOTE: Here a few great salad additives: Craisins or raisins, canned mandarin oranges, coated/candied pecans and sunflower seeds.
I hope you have a very healthy week! — Sheryl
Sheryl Sollars, a Clinton County native, is an accomplished cook and homemaker. She contributes her column Welcome to My Kitchen out of her love of homemaking and of sharing her thoughts with her readers. If you have cooking questions or a recipe you want to share, please contact Sheryl at email@example.com.