Salads are perhaps our most virtuous foods. In a climate of food moralizing, the rebel in me wants to eschew them and focus this post on my true love - french fries. But I have to admit it, I am addicted to salads.
This is a recent development. It starts where many intriguing stories begin, when I met and moved in with my half-French boyfriend.
As a health coach, I am well aware of the merits of a salad, but was not in the habit of making them very often. Perhaps as a result of having hippies for parents, the salad making process struck me as a bit precious and overwhelming. We often assume a proper salad needs a dozen or more ingredients: multiple chopped veggies (carrots, broccoli, peppers, celery, beets, tomatoes...the list goes on!), herbs, and (although hotly contested) a big handful of some nuts and seeds sprinkled on top. Bonus points for fruit as well.
The problem with this approach to salad is that after preparing a whole meal at home, I wasn’t always in the mood for washing lettuce, gathering all of these ingredients, dicing, and coming up with the creative result.
Unlike me, my French boyfriend was a simple salad maker. Lettuce and dressing. At first, I was skeptical. It seemed a bit boring, lazy, and even lacking in nutritional density.
Yet after my first bite, I found myself begging for more. Could he make two heads of lettuce instead of one? In our meals together (sometimes extravagant) the simple salad kept stealing the show. Once, I found myself licking the plate hoping to get more of the dressing. This was a salad revelation.
These days, we have salad with almost every meal and while eating more leafy greens is a nice health outcome, it is in no way the primary motivation. Salad truly can be addictive. The key is mastering one delicious, simple, homemade salad dressing.
I’ll give credit where it’s due: Ryan’s grandfather, who still lives in France (and is coming into his 94th year!), eats a simple salad almost daily and the extremely addictive salad dressing is his family recipe. And as we know, when it comes to simple food, the French often know best.
Here’s a 4 Step Process for Becoming a Salad Addict:
Step #1 - Master one homemade, unbelievably delicious salad dressing recipe. If you think it’s kind of good but not amazing, keep trying. You should want to drink the salad dressing straight and be tempted to drive to the store for a head of lettuce, simply as an excuse to eat this dressing. Once you master one dressing, branch out and seek an equally addictive alternative that satisfies a different palette (perhaps creamy if the first is a vinaigrette).
Step #2 - Simplify your expectations for what needs to go into the salad. Try to make the dressing so good that you only need one ingredient. This increases your chances of you making it even when you are feeling lazy/busy.
Step #3 - Figure out how to wash lettuce without hating your life. In order to do this buy a good salad spinner and if you can’t stand washing and drying lettuce (dry lettuce is key if you want to coat the lettuce fully with dressing), buy the pre-washed salad mixes.
Step #4 - Don’t just pour dressing on your salad, pre-dress the salad and make sure to coat every leaf. You can do this by pouring on the salad dressing and tossing with some tongs (or if you’re like me, your hands) until thoroughly coated.
Here are my favorite addictive salad dressing recipes to get you started. If you have any you are currently loving please SHARE!
Ryan’s Grandpa’s Extremely Addictive French Salad Dressing
1 part red wine vinegar
3 parts good olive oil
1 garlic clove per person - chopped or pounded (scale this back if you aren’t a garlic lover)
A small spoonful of mustard to emulsify everything
Salt and pepper to taste
Make it saltier and more acidic than you think it should be -- this will mellow a bit once it’s spread out on the salad.
To pound garlic, pour some salt on the peeled clove and pound it to a paste with a mortar and pestle or the side of a knife against a cutting board (feel free to just chop the garlic if you prefer).
Here’s an article that describes Alice Waters making essentially this dressing if you want more thorough instructions: http://www.mariasfarmcountrykitchen.com/alice-waters-makes-salad-dressing-at-my-house/
Blue Cheese Dressing
Adapted from Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat
5 oz Roquefort (or another high quality blue cheese)
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1/2 c olive oil
1/4 cup heavy cream (or creme fraiche)
1 garlic chopped / or pounded
Asian-Style Salad Dressing
1 part rice wine vinegar
3 parts olive oil
1-2 tbsp soy sauce
1-2 cloves of diced or pounded garlic
Dash of maple syrup or honey
*All of these recipes are approximate. Adjust the acid, salt, and garlic to your preference.
Additional salad-related inspiration:
I find this video of Jamie Oliver talking about salad-making basics inspiring (and charming).
For the ultimate salad inspiration visit the blog of fellow salad lover, Julia Sherman, called Salad For President.