There was a short period of time in my life where my nickname was Salad. Well, it was usually pronounced “Sallllaaaaaaaaaaad!” and it was really only one person, my boss at the time, who called me that (does that even count as a legitimate nickname?). Anyway, he called me that because I always had salads for lunch. Now, before you mistake me for some sort of health nut, pause and consider how wide a term ‘salad’ really is. It has come to mean so many things in so many applications; essentially if you have a bunch of edible stuff and you mix it together you have a salad, so my salads, like many salads, were not always a barometer of flawless nutrition. That aside, I am a fan of salads in part because they are often so veggie-centric and I do love virtually all vegetables, but I love them more because I like variety.
One of my favorite movies, don’t judge me, is The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996). It’s a sweet, dozy rom-com starring the illustrious Barbra Streisand and the ever dashing Jeff Bridges. Streisand’s character, Rose, has this thing about salads – extra dressing on the side – and like with all her meals she carefully crafts ‘the perfect bite’. The salad is always dissected, the parts she doesn’t like are set aside, the rest re-arranged, the dressing is globbed on just so, and then each forkful is stacked with just the right ratio of ingredients. It sounds insignificant but it actually becomes a really beautiful metaphor between her character and Bridges’ character, Gregory. All she wants is someone who really knows her, who really gets her and she really thinks she’s found him when Gregory orders for her in a restaurant and he is very specific with the waiter that she will start with salad and that she likes extra dressing, on the side. He finds her perfect bite ritual fascinating and she discovers throughout the film that her life, like that perfect bite, is worth building meticulously and including only exactly what she wants and nothing she doesn’t. Rose learns she doesn’t need to settle because every bite (of salad, or of life) can and should be, the perfect bite.
So many people look to salads as a palate cleanser or at worst, a necessary evil. I find, in our home, that although we eat salads all the time, when we pull out all the stops and have a big dinner salad with a variety of add-ins where the whole meal is comprised of salad, it is usually an indication of a needed “re-set”. Dinner salads come into play when we have become bored or complacent with our usual roster of meals, or when we need to shake things up cleanse our palates in the broader sense. Just like Rose and her perfect bite, don’t settle for a hum-drum side of vegetables – make them the star! Add in things you love and make your own perfect bite, perfect dinner, perfect night.
Any ingredients, in any proportion, with an excellent dressing … get creative, choose what you love, just make sure that your ingredients are great quality, really fresh and there’s plenty of them – your dining companions will surely want to load up their plates. Incidentally, chilled plates and a delicious loaf of bread as accompaniment make very nice touches.
Enough lettuce, spinach or mixed greens that each diner can have a good handful of them.
Cheese(s) – sliced, grated, cubed or crumbled, tomatoes and cucumbers, olives, roasted peppers, roasted or canned beets, blanched veggies such as beans or peas, julienned carrot, finely sliced onion, boiled or roasted baby potatoes, hard boiled eggs, capers, diced apple or pear, chickpeas or beans.
Basically a Caesar dressing, this citrus-forward, garlicky emulsion goes great on anything and can easily be adapted to suit your tastes with the addition of your favourite herbs, hot sauces, or by switching in any number of delicious vinegars for the lemon juice. Make this dressing in a Mason jar – this allows you to shake, serve and store it all in one vessel. Leftovers will last a week or so in the fridge.
¼ C fresh lemon juice
½ C olive oil
¾ C grated fresh Parmesan
1 Tbsp anchovy paste
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
½ tsp Dijon mustard
5 cloves fresh garlic, grated or mashed in a garlic press
¾ tsp fresh ground pepper
salt to taste
Combine all ingredients in a Mason jar, seal well and shake vigorously until the anchovy paste has dissolved and the dressing is smooth and emulsified.