CONCORD, N.H. – On too many dinner tables the salad is an afterthought, a random toss of greens and garden castoffs offered for seemingly no other reason than that the host thinks it ought to be.
No doubt you have encountered these salads of limp greens or watery iceberg lettuce in a jumble of carrots, cucumbers and tomatoes. Their only advantage is how easily they are forgotten.
It need not be that way. Salads can stand on their own merits, complement the meal and even challenge the palate.
As so often is the case, simplicity is best. My favorite salad is an elegant yet rustic heap of mesclun greens drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil, salt and balsamic vinegar. The construction may be simple, but the tastes are bold and complex.
That same basic salad also can be dressed up to suit different themes. Asian on the menu? Substitute toasted sesame oil and seasoned rice vinegar, then sprinkle with sesame seeds.
In fall, add thin slices of apples or pears. For more oomph, toss the greens with roasted whole garlic cloves and drizzle with cider vinegar and toasted hazelnut oil.
For a more substantial yet equally simple salad, try an Italian tomato and mozzarella platter. Alternate slices of Roma tomatoes with water-packed mozzarella. Top with basil leaves, salt, freshly ground black pepper and extra-virgin olive oil.
For a Greek version of the same dish, substitute crumbled feta cheese for the mozzarella and replace the basil with fresh thyme and pitted Kalamata olives.
For another fantastic dinner salad, try a strawberry salad with poppy seed dressing. This simple salad of romaine, strawberry slices and almond slivers from Cooking Light magazine has received many rave reviews from our dinner guests.
Strawberry salad with poppy seed dressing
3tablespoons light mayonnaise
2tablespoons fat-free milk
1tablespoon poppy seeds
1tablespoon white wine vinegar
110-ounce bag romaine lettuce, roughly chopped
1cup sliced strawberries
2tablespoons toasted slivered almonds
Combine the sugar, mayonnaise, milk, poppy seeds and vinegar in a small bowl and whisk well. Place the lettuce in a large bowl. Add the strawberries and almonds and toss lightly. Divide among individual serving plates and drizzle each with about 1 tablespoon dressing.
Makes six servings.
From Cooking Light magazine
18-inch section English cucumber, not peeled, cut lengthwise into quarters and thinly sliced
1green mango, peeled and cut into julienne strips
1/4cup slivered red onion
3green onions, finely chopped
2tablespoons freshly chopped cilantro
1/2red bell pepper, seeded and cut into thin strips
1jalapeno pepper, finely chopped (with or without seeds, depending on heat tolerance)
2tablespoons lime juice
2tablespoons white vinegar
2tablespoons vegetable oil
Salt, to taste
Place the cucumber and mango in a large bowl. Add the red onions, green onions, half of the cilantro, red pepper and jalapeno. Toss until well mixed.
In a small bowl, whisk together the lime juice, vinegar, oil and sugar until emulsified. Season to taste with salt. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss well.
Transfer the salad to a serving bowl and garnish with remaining cilantro.
Makes six servings.
From Byron Ayanoglu’s “125 Best Vegetarian Recipes”