There will be six of us for dinner Saturday night, including a couple of really good cooks, meaning that if I try to compete, I fail. So what to serve? I may write good books, but a gourmet cook I am not.
My gut tells me that it’s best to go with simple and fresh, which, this time of year in the Northeast, means a big multi-ingredient salad. Fresh veggies and fruit, lettuce from the garden, sweet corn … they’re my key ingredients. Hey, don’t yawn. Salad may be healthy, but it doesn’t have to be boring.
Start with lettuce. There are different flavors, colors, and texture. My very favorite kind is butter lettuce (a.k.a. Boston Bibb), but in a big salad I’ll add red leaf lettuce, spinach, or even a little kale. Romaine seems to have an extra-long life in my fridge, so I usually have some of that around. Do I want my salad in full leaves or chopped? Depends on my mood.
Next, veggies. Peppers are always good for color and health, but I use them during the rest of the year, so sometimes in summer I steer clear. Zucchini or summer squash, blanched and diced, adds texture. Likewise, seedless cukes, either sliced or diced. And once the local crop arrives, sweet corn is the best. I cook the corn earlier in the day, remove it from the cob with a knife, and toss it in. Fresh asparagus from earlier in the week? Into the bowl. Same with whatever color tomatoes are on sale at my farm stand in a given week. How about dinner leftovers, even of frozen veggies, like peas or green beans? In they go.
If I have apple slices left in the bag I bought for my grandkids, I throw them in, too. Actually, I’ll thrown most anything from my fridge into a salad. We’re talking bacon, ham, hard-boiled-egg, or sliced chicken, any one of which, of course, adds protein to make the salad a meal in itself.
Oh oh oh, I nearly forgot cheese. Most any kind works in a salad. I always keep blocks of Cabot’s cheddar in my fridge as a source of calcium. If I’m looking to add some to my salad, I cut little strips and add them.
And nuts, can’t forget nuts. Pine nuts, walnut, pecans, pistachios — I’ll add whatever I have.
Okay. I really have given you lots of choices here, and truly? If I do want the simple and fresh I mentioned above, I’ll got for 4-5 interesting ingredients, rather than 10, which means that another day, I have 4-5 other interesting ingredients to use. Moreover, if you’ve included even half of what I’m listing above, your salad is getting up there in calories.
You may want to watch that, especially when it comes to dressing. Sometimes I make my own, especially when I’m in a Sweet Salt Air herb mood. Often, though, it’s more work than I want. And let me say right here, I detest diet dressing. Some people swear by it, but I haven’t found one that works with my taste buds in a way that doesn’t ruin the rest of the salad. My solution? Dribble. Regular. Dressing. A little salad dressing can go a long way. The dressing should be like background music during dinner – i.e., subtle and muted.
What else do you add to your salad? I ask, because I’m always looking for something new. Something novel. Pun intended.