Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Secret of Salads

I may have finally discovered the secret to salads.

But first, a little background.

My grandma J was the salad making expert of the family. Anytime we got together for the holidays, she'd bring a crisp, veggie-filled layered delight. Every bite seemed to be full of mushrooms, radish, tomato or bell pepper. And her salads rarely had cheese. Which makes it especially surprising that I loved them so much.

I thought I hadn't gotten the salad making gene from her, for all my salads tended to be lettuce-heavy and short on veggies. Any veggies I did add were chopped small and tended to sink to the bottom of the bowl.

Last night, while making a salad, I had an epiphany. I must give much of the credit to the ingredients I had on hand. The salad was to be the main course, so I had procured some end-of-summer tomatoes, thick chunks of fresh-boiled chicken, two types of nuts, homemade croutons, and goat cheese. It's kind of hard to go wrong when you start with good ingredients.

For all these years, I'd been chopping my veggies much too small. Sure, that's how my mom did it, but she always portioned the lettuce first into bowls, then sprinkled the veggies on top. Thus, no sinkage. But for salad in the big bowl, if the bites were larger, they rest much better on top of the lettuce.

Comparing this salad to others I'd made, I realized I had put a lot more non-lettuce ingredients into this one. Increasing the amount of other stuff in the salad made it tastier and more interesting.

I also needed to layer like a lasagna. So, a layer of lettuce, then a layer of each of the other ingredients, before I got back to the lettuce. For my normal salads, I had been putting a layer of lettuce between each other ingredient, which meant too much lettuce, not enough other stuff.

With those concepts in mind, I have created a simple salad formula. I'm confident this formula will help me remember what I've learned, so I can create successful salads in the future.

Secret of Salads

1. Start with flavorful ingredients. At least one of the ingredients should be nuts, cheese, dried fruit, bacon, or some other ingredient that packs a flavor punch.

2. Make the ratio of lettuce to other ingredients 1 to 1. e.g. make sure the amount of "guts" of the salad (meat, cheese, nuts, veggies) is at least as much as the lettuce.

3. Ingredients should be in large bite-sizes.

4. Layer like a lasagna.

Here's the salad I made using those rules.

Hearty Chicken Tomato Salad
1 bag pre-washed lettuce
2 cups chicken breast, pulled apart into large bite-sized chunks
1/4 cup nuts
1 cup cherry tomatoes, split in half
2 ounces goat cheese
Bacon Salt croutons (recipe follows)

Put a small layer of lettuce in the bottom of a large bowl. Sprinkle with half of chicken, tomatoes, nuts, croutons. Crumble half of goat cheese and sprinkle on top. Repeat, adding the rest of the lettuce and the rest of the other ingredients.

Serve with large salad tongs so you can get pieces of everything in the salad. Dressing is optional.

Bacon salt croutons
half a loaf of Italian or French bread
1 Tablespoon butter
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 Tablespoons Bacon Salt (Click here to find Bacon Salt near you)

Slice bread crosswise. Cut into large bite-sized cubes.
Set bread aside and heat butter, olive oil, and bacon salt in a large skillet, over medium heat. Stir to combine.
Once butter is melted, add bread cubes. Stir, making sure that each bread cube gets a little bit of the bacon mixture soaked into it.
Stir frequently until cubes start to brown slightly. Remove from heat. Can store in an airtight container at room temperature for a day.


KmLawrence said...

This sounds delicious! I heart bacon salt so much. Trying this tonight!

The musishian said...

Cool. Let me know how it turns out. And feel free to improvise: I had some carrots and some onion on hand but simply forgot to put them in.