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Comments by YACCS
Sunday, July 09, 2006

What is a salad

Tuna-macaroni salad

The Way We Eat: Salad Daze

Published: July 9, 2006

Most dishes, once conceived, remain fairly stable through the years, give or take an herb or a sauce. A modern-day roast chicken is pretty much the same as the one medieval cooks turned on a spit. And a cupcake is always a cupcake.

But the salad, which has been around since the Romans — who ate their vegetables and conquered the world — continues to change its identity, forever finding new ways to insist that it is an adaptable composition of loosely related ingredients (not necessarily vegetables) unified by a dressing. A cookbook I have from the late 1940's divided the empire of salads into 11 kingdoms: chilled, frozen, hot, bowl, decorative, platter, individual, molded, whole meal, fruit and chicken. (They forgot edible.)

This is both the beauty and the burden of salads. By their very lack of rules or constraints, they somehow allow cooks to express the anxieties and fascinations of the period. The collective unconscious has more room to play with a free-form arrangement of dressed vegetables than with a chicken drumstick.

Some past pairings confound the modern palate. A hundred years ago, before salad came to be considered a healthful appetizer, it was treated as an exotic European import. Celery Victor, a popular salad of the 1920's, combined a vinaigrette with — oh, joy! — boiled celery.

After World War II, America went through a stage of wanting to put its stamp on everything it produced, which worked beautifully with the Marshall Plan and convertibles but much less so with the era's foods, which included a phenomenal number of strange, bland, yet intricately designed salads. It seemed there wasn't an ingredient on earth that couldn't be suspended in Jell-O, like prehistoric bugs in amber. Cooks made tomato aspic, floated chopped vegetables in lemon gelatin and jellied pineapple and cucumbers. The nadir was the ginger-ale salad: canned fruit and celery preserved in a mold of ginger-ale-flavored gelatin. I've tried it, and you shouldn't.

By the 70's, this kind of high-concept, low-reward fussiness had run its course. Salads were pared down to concoctions like potatoes with eggs, celery seed and crunchy pickles soaked in mayonnaise. Salads meant beans from a can and tart dressings whisked together with anonymous oils, combinations designed for a long ride in the station wagon, followed quite possibly by a long recline in the sun. Seventies salads were not about false restraint. They didn't waste time on heirloom vegetables, luxury tidbits and the gentle waft of almond oil. They went for the kill: the potluck version of long sideburns.

Boom periods are busts, saladwise. In the 80's, chefs built empires on the plate, with mountains of seared tuna, islands of sliced beets and clouds of raspberry dressing. All your scattered ambitions, and in fact your entire meal, could be found in your salad. Ingredients were piled as high as Tina Turner's hair. (You can relive this abundance today if you order the Cobb salad at Michael's in Manhattan.)

How should we read the leaves now? It's hard to say. On a recent trip to Los Angeles, I came across a tuna-macaroni salad, dotted with cubes of cheddar cheese. The place was Clementine, a small cafe in Westwood known for its stylish take on home-style cooking. The last time I'd seen a salad like it was probably 1978 in a deli, and it wasn't $8.75 for a half-quart.

Last week, the leftist consipracy barbecue,there were several kinds of salads, lentils, one Jen made withc chickpeas.

So what kind of summer salads do you enjoy?

Jen here--tummy feeling a tad better, so I thought I would kick in to this food post and bump it up.

Gilly--actually, it had no chickpeas. I made a sort of salad with Yemenite couscous (the big ones that look like buckshot) and Black Caviar Lentils, which are very tiny and almost perfectly spherical.

How to do it: Cook up yer couscous and lentils separatley and drain into the bowl you'll use (I used 1.5 cups of couscous and 1 cup lentils, dry). Add very good eating-grade olive oil, kosher salt, fresh ground pepper, a whole bunch of broadleaf parsely leaves chopped up, and the juice of at least 2 or 3 big fresh lemons. Also put in one or two Kirby cukes cubed fine, a tomato cubed fine, and one large white onion (the big type they slice for hamburger topping). Most important, don't forget at least 4 or 5 BIG cloves of garlic, put through a garlic press. Toss all together with your hands and let hang out covered in the fridge for at least 8 hours or overnight. This is fabu picnic, bbq, and potluck fare. Note that it's also VEGAN, and if you leave off the couscous and instead use just rawfood-soaked lentils and other grains, you could even do this Raw Vegan. The lemon juice (use a lot, at least 1/3 cup) also gives this amazing shelf life.

I also love doing Summer Slaws for myself. Normally, plain ol greens get destroyed by my cheap and unevenly-cooling fridge, but a slaw of some sort that has vinegar in it stays well and stays crisp.

I love to do various Asian-esqe slaws. A simple one that I do a lot: Get a head of either bok choy or white cabbage (or sometimes red cabbage). In the AM, pull off the nasty leaves and shred as fine as your knife skills will allow. Put in your biggest prep bowl and spinkle with at least 1 Tablespoon of salt and combine--the salt should sorta dissolve from any moisture left on the cabbage from rinsing. Cover with plastic and let sit at ROOM TEMPERATURE for at least 2 or 3 hours until said cabbage wilts. Then rinse until you can't stand it anymore and the water no longer tastes salty. Pat dry with paper towels.

From here on it depends What You got in the House and What you Want in your Slaw. I typically add parsely and/or cilantro and/or mint (fresh from my greengrocer), and sometimes a bell pepper shredded fine for color, and a scallion for flavor and color. Dressing has to have at least some acid--I usually use plain ol white vinegar or sometimes wine vinegar or rice vinegar. I use some black pepper, and usually some smoky sesame oil and/or red chilie oil (just a very little). Sometimes I also put in a splash of lemon or lime juice. Add a few chopped almonds or something if you want. Bean sprouts could work. In the past I have also added some shredded ginger root or garlic or both...the one rule is NO MORE SALT--the cabbage will have absorbed plenty. This also needs at least a few hours to set up after making and stays a while in the fridge. I like to put a pile of it on a plate and top with grilled meat of some sort or other hot food. Note that this is also vegan and raw.

Hmmm...I think I'm gonna download my email and go shopping...after all, I need to get some fresh food in. I think I have chicken breasts in the freezer that I can broil, but that's another thread.

Oh yeah, I would rather cook than watch...what is the name of that game, the one those nice multiethnic men in matching shirts play, with the round object, on the nice picnic lawn

This from a woman who lived in London for 18 months and had no clue what Arsenal was. I have to ask her who the hell she dated back then, because to be soccer ignorant for that long, well, that's hard to believe

Anyway, when it comes to potato salad, there is but one true god.

Potato Salad is

boiled potatoes
sweet relish

This is mixed until combined, placed in a refrigerator and chilled.

Olives? Tomatoes? What does that have to do with potato salad? Hot? No, that's just nasty. Olive oil? Why?

Potato salad is the most difficult all of black foods to make. Most people get it wrong, put mustard in it, or red pepper or some other shit which doesn't belong.

No restaurant is any good if their potato salad sucks. I don't care about their fried chicken or ribs. If they serve potato salad, it better be good or else. Which is why church food rules. When you get that vingerary/relishy hit of flavor, then you have something.

posted by Steve @ 1:03:00 PM

1:03:00 PM

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