Saved by a salad

tossed salad in big wooden bowl on counter filled with ingredients

I have to admit there have been a lot of cookies over the past month or so.

And cake and homemade ice cream as well.

And, of course, beer and wine and cocktails.

And, now that I look back on it, a truly injudicious amount of melted cheese.

In fact, for the past week or so there has been a herd of angry wildebeests rampaging through my digestive tract. If I don’t eat something green soon, I’m not entirely sure I can control them. I’m long overdue for a salad.

Looking for an authoritative expert on salads, I consulted a tragically overlooked seminal treatise on the subject, Thomas J. Murrey’s 1885 classic, 50 Salads (By the author of 50 Soups). Mr. Murrey clearly took his salads seriously.

“Of the many varieties of food daily consumed,” he writes, “none are more important than a salad, rightly compounded. And there is nothing more exasperating than an inferior one. The salad is the Prince of the Menu, and although a dinner be perfect in every other detail except the salad, the affair will be voted a failure if that be poor.”

He continues, “It is therefore necessary for those contemplating dinner-giving, to personally overlook the preparation of the salad if they wish favorable criticism.”

The Prince of the Menu, indeed. At this point I’m with him on Team Salad, although I have to imagine his cook or his wife was not impressed with his personally overlooking their salad-making to make sure there were no salad shenanigans going on.

His actual recipes, however, seem to be of extremely variable quality. There is a Cherry Salad, for instance, which sounds delicious — fresh cherries marinated in three types of alcohol. But others, like Pigeon Salad and Frog Salad, are clearly of a particular moment in history. And yet others really seem to have been phoned in. Eels Mayonnaise calls for two ingredients, eels and mayonnaise. His Mint Salad calls for adding fresh mint to a salad.

I seem to be on my own here. What I want is a proper tossed salad — not a macaroni salad, or a Jell-O salad, or a lobster salad — a simple tossed, green salad.

At the risk of sounding Murreyesque, I also have some strong feelings about salad:

(1) A tossed salad shouldn’t have more than six ingredients, including the dressing. Any more than that, it gets too busy and the flavors get in each other’s way.

(2) A good tossed salad should be exactly that: tossed. Individual bowls of lettuce with dressing poured over the top are clumsy at best, and at worst depressing and a sign of poor moral character. The salad should be made in a large bowl, dressed, then thoroughly tossed with a set of tongs.

(3) Lettuce: There are two tribes in Lettuce Nation: crisp lettuce and tender lettuce. I fall strongly on the side of tender lettuce, but if you are a Romaine enthusiast, could I ask that you chop it reasonably well, so your guests aren’t left gnawing on Romaine stems?

Here is the salad I made tonight:

My six ingredients are Bibb lettuce; canned diced tomatoes (obviously, fresh tomatoes would be better, but there won’t be any good ones for another eight months); a diced avocado; shredded, mixed Italian cheese; sesame sticks, and a maple Dijon vinaigrette.

Maple Dijon Vinaigrette

  • ¼ cup (80 grams) maple syrup
  • 3 Tablespoons (32 grams) finely minced shallot
  • 2 Tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon Canola oil
  • 1 Tablespoon whole-grain Dijon mustard
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1 garlic clove, finely minced

Put all ingredients in a bowl and whisk vigorously. If you have a miniature blender — a Magic Bullet, or something similar — that will work even better.

In addition to flavor, the mustard brings lecithin, an emulsifier that ties everything together. The maple syrup brings sweetness, and the vinegar brings acid, but the star of this dressing is the shallot. This is worth making once a week.

Featured photo: West 75th. Photo by John Fladd.

Stay in the loop!

Get FREE weekly briefs on local food, music,

arts, and more across southern New Hampshire!