The dinner salad profile has morphed amazingly in the last 30 years. Sweeping popularity of the Cesar Salad brought romaine lettuce to the market as a shining star. It had been available prior to the Cesar rage, but few shoppers chose it over iceberg lettuce. I can remember romaine nestled in with some wilting heads of red and green lettuces at the grocery store. A few got purchased and the rest ended up in the back of a pickup that hauled food to the pigs.
Pigs, chickens, and assorted farm animals ate the nutritious green stuff and the rest of us filled up on iceberg lettuce.
Fast-forward a few decades: We know better!
Not only are fresh greens displayed like works of art in the markets, but many of us are willing to try any edible young green in a salad. While my parents saw no use for a pea tendril except to anchor the pea vine to the trellis, I now see it as choice addition to a bright green salad. Who knew that tender young chard could be so succulent in a winter salad? Thirty years ago the few people who used arugula were Italian immigrants. Now “arugula” is a household word. We’ve come a long way!
We can go further still. Forward movement is still needed in how we dress our salads. Yes, ranch dressing will always be a favorite, especially when homemade. Oil and vinegar will live on and zesty vinaigrettes will remain staples.
The new frontier in salad dressings is the seasonings we choose when blending the dressings and dressing the greens.
When my mother served a meal the salad was oh so predictable: a wedge of iceberg with a plop of bottled Thousand Island dressing. The memory still sets my teeth on edge. It was several years into my own homemaking before I could think of salad as a fine addition to the menu.
It was so liberating to discover that cuisines world-wide have been serving a myriad of salads, probably since cuisines took shape eons ago. In combing through archives of inspiring salad recipes, I have found nothing like what my mother served. Where did iceberg come from anyway?
The dressing below comes from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi. It’s adapted a bit — well, quite a bit. However, Yotam is into improvising. I know he would be pleased. He is my current great inspiration for trying new flavors. My mother would be pleased too, if she were still with us. She was an artist, cooking not being her artistic expression. She did love a good meal.
Serve this salad to appeal visually to any artist at your table. The bright flavors will shake you out of food boredom and the crunchy textures will so complement soft rice, grain or bean dishes. What a winner! Mix it up and feel like a total salad pro.
The bulk of the ingredients in this salad get harvested together in the fall garden. Apparently the same is true in London where Yotam works his magic in the famous Ottolenghi restaurant. Use whatever greens you love and can find. With this dressing, you just can’t miss.
Green Salad Ingredients
- 2 cups green beans, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces
- 2 cups snow peas or sugar snap peas
- 1 cup shelled green peas (frozen peas are an option)
- 1 cup baby chard (rainbow chard if you have a choice)
- 1 cup arugula torn into pieces
- 2 teaspoons coriander seed, crushed but not powdered
- 1 teaspoon mustard seed
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/2 onion, finely minced
- 1 small chile (hot to your discretion), finely minced
- 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
- Grated zest of one lemon
- 1 tablespoon minced tarragon (preferably fresh)
- 1 heaping tablespoon black sesame seed (for garnish)
Green Salad Steps
- Blanch the beans and peas. Fill a large saucepan half full of water and bring it to a boil.
- Drop the beans into the boiling water. Two minutes later add the snow peas or snap peas. A half minute later add the shelled peas. Thirty seconds later, remove the pan from the heat.
- Drain the vegetables and refresh in ice water to stop the cooking process. Your vegetables should be bright green and tender-crisp. Pour them out onto a towel to dry, then place in a large salad bowl.
- Heat the oil in a medium-sized skillet until the oil begins to shimmer. Add the coriander and mustard seed. Stir for thirty seconds then add the onion. Stir for one minute then add the minced pepper and garlic. Stir for thirty seconds more.
- Pour the contents of the skillet over the beans and peas. Toss gently until all the vegetables are coated.
- Sprinkle on the tarragon and lemon zest. Toss again.
- Add the chard and arugula. Toss gently to coat.
- Plate the salads to show off this treasury of textures and sprinkle with some black sesame seeds. Voila! Beautiful and delectable!
The blanching can be done hours ahead or even a day ahead of assembling the salad. Keep the blanched vegetables in an air-tight container in the refrigerator until you are ready to finish the salad making. Best results come from adding the dressing and adding the fresh greens just prior to meal time.