Salads – A Great Start or End to a Beautiful Meal

Happy New Year everyone! It’s hard to fathom the year 2015. Okay, maybe for some of us that’s an easy year to imagine – the twenty-something crowd. But for those of us way, way beyond our youthful years, 2015 sound like a very futuristic number. Is this the year that will bring us George Jetson’s flying car or an “oven like” contraption, that with the press a few buttons and poof, a complete turkey dinner with all the trimmings (including lit candles for ambiance) comes rolling out?  Probably not – but one can hope, right?

As the year 2014 drew to a close, we fondly looked back on the year that was. Many of us (including me) created blog links to the best; most popular, favorite postings of the passing year. Some of us (including me) created one of those Face Book Year in Review things. Bragging rights, I suppose. And there’s nothing wrong with bragging rights. We should be proud of past accomplishments, reflect on the good things while turning an eye toward the future. I couldn’t help but wonder, what about the “misses” – those posting (in my case recipes) that received little or no attention . . . Was it due to presentation? Was it timing or content? Would these “misses” still be misses if reintroduced? Guess there’s only one way to find out. So I’m going to conduct an experiment of sorts – rewrite; a “do over” to see what happens.

The absolute worst, receiving just one like and only two views, was Part 8 of my long-winded traveling dinner party. It was all about salads – a collection of salad recipes for the salad course of a multi-course supper. I’m betting this “failed” because it was part of a long-winded multi-posting. After all, who doesn’t like salad? In the summer, a salad is can be all we have for supper. (Although Hubby generally follows his salad with a huge helping of “dessert” – even if that means scarfing down a half a bag of cookies with a tall glass of ice-cold milk or a big helping of ice cream).

Salad – be it served as a starter (more common in America’s restaurants), as an accompaniment to the meal (more common in American homes) or at the conclusion (a European thing – and just how we like it in our house).

I’ve read that the reason salads are served at the start of the meal in many American restaurants is because they are an easy filler to keep the diner occupied while awaiting the main entrée. (Another reason for the “endless” bread supply). As far as the practice of serving a salad with the meal at home, I am of the opinion that in America it’s time-saving thing. Most family meals, despite however long it takes to prepare, are generally served to be eaten quickly. Americans really don’t spend much time lingering over a home-cooked meal. We might take our time while dining out – getting our money’s worth, I suppose. But at home, we tend to eat quickly. I’m not sure why, it’s just what we do. Unless company is at the table, and then we slow down. Just an observation. I could be completely wrong . . .

In our house, the salad is usually served at the end. Sometimes we’ll go so far as to clear the table and wash the dishes before having our salad. Salads are said to be a good palate cleanser, or to help in the digest of a heavy meal. Both of these are valid reasons for serving a salad at the end. However; Hubby says he likes his salad at the end because he wants to eat the hot food while it’s still hot, and the salad will keep until the end even if it’s placed on the table at the start. I can’t argue with his sound logic.

Sometimes a salad is nothing more than torn lettuce and chopped tomatoes with a good dressing. (Those are my favorite – we always have lettuce and tomatoes at hand). Other times, especially if the meal itself is something “special”, a salad needs to be equally well-thought out. The recipes that follow are some “special” suggestions . . .

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The great thing about this salad from Everyday French is that it is a per-person recipe; which means you can make just the right amount of salad.

Arugula Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette
1 large handful of Arugula
1/2 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Wash the arugula and spin it dry. By the way, the everyday French chef doesn’t shy from using ‘salad in a bag’ — but it still needs rinsing to get those chemicals off. The fresher the Arugula, the less bitter and more peppery the flavor. Set aside.

In the bottom of your salad bowl, combine the vinegar and the olive oil, stirring energetically to create an emulsified sauce. If the sauce does not emulsify, add a little bit more oil. Peel the garlic clove and cut in half. Add to the sauce. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Just before serving, remove the garlic from the sauce and add the arugula to the bowl. Toss well.

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Another wonderful, authentic salad from Everyday French is this Caesar Salad, complete with home-made croutons.

Caesar Salad with Herbal Croutons
Ingredients – Herbal Croutons
1 loaf French bread or another crusty bread
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 branch rosemary, or 1 teaspoon dried herbs (thyme, oregano or herbes de Provence)
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly Ground Black Pepper

Make the croutons. Cut the bread in half crosswise to make two manageable pieces. Slice each piece in half lengthwise. Then cut each half into strips. Now cut through the strips crosswise to form cubes about 3/4 inch per side. Important: Do not discard the crust! Remember, the crust is what gave croutons their name.

Spread the bread cubes out on a rimmed baking sheet and allow them to dry-out for about an hour.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. While the oven heats, transfer the cubes to a large bowl. Drizzle with the olive oil. Sprinkle with the herbs, salt and pepper. Toss, so that the cubes are evenly coated.

Return the cubes back to the baking  sheet. Bake 15-20 minutes, or until golden. This process can go very quickly — to prevent burning, which would ruin the croutons, peek into the oven after 10 minutes and keep checking frequently until they are done.

Allow the croutons to cool completely. If you don’t need all the croutons at once, you can store them in a covered plastic container in the fridge for up to a week. Simply reheat gently before serving. Serves 6.

Ingredients – Caesar Salad
1 cup (or more) herbal croutons (above)
1 head romaine lettuce
2 egg yolks
juice of 1/2 lemon (about 2 tbsp.)
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 large clove garlic or 2 medium cloves, peeled and chopped
2 anchovy filets, chopped
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoons salt
freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Chop the romaine crosswise into strips about 2 inches (5 cm) wide. Wash, spin dry and set aside in the fridge.

Combine all the remaining ingredients except the cheese in a blender (hand-held or countertop).

Pulse until you have a thick, emulsified sauce. Transfer to the bottom of a large salad bowl. Stir in the cheese.

Five minutes before serving, return the croutons to a preheated oven to warm them. Place the chilled romaine on top of the dressing. Toss. Add the croutons. Toss again.

Serves 4 as a salad course, 2 as a main course.

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The beauty of this Caprese Salad (aside from the wonderful color) is that it is designed to serve on individual plates.

Caprese Salad
3 or 4 tomatoes, good quality, such as heirloom
1 lb fresh mozzarella
fresh Italian basil (do not substitute dried)
extra virgin olive oil
Kosher or good quality sea salt

Slice the tomatoes into about 3/8″ thick slices. Slice the mozzarella into the same sized slices.

Arrange the tomato and mozzarella slices alternating onto well-chilled salad plates. If desired, tuck fresh basil between the slices.

Drizzle salad generously with extra virgin olive oil, and sprinkle with salt just before serving.

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This beautiful Greek Salad is made with a multitude of colorful and flavorful vegetables. It naturally lends itself well to a large platter presentation to display all its beauty.

Feta Greek Salad
1 head romaine lettuce, rinsed, dried and chopped
1 red onion, thinly sliced
1 (6 ounce) can pitted Marinated Green olives, sliced
1 Yellow bell pepper, chopped
1 Red bell pepper, chopped
2 large tomatoes, chopped
1 cucumber, sliced
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 lemon, juiced
ground black pepper to taste

In a large salad bowl, combine the Romaine, onion, olives, bell peppers, tomatoes, cucumber and cheese.

Whisk together the olive oil, oregano, lemon juice and black pepper. Pour dressing over salad, toss and serve.

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One of my all-time favorite salads is simply a mixture of tender greens, pears and walnuts. The Feta is optional. It adds to the flavor of the pears. The dressing for this salad is nothing more than fresh squeezed lemons with a little olive oil. Truffle oil would be wonderful, if you happen to keep it on hand as I do.

Winter Salad with Walnuts & Pears
4 large handfuls of mixed salad greens
2 pear
1 cup walnut halves
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt freshly ground to taste
freshly ground black pepper
Feta crumbles

Wash the salad greens, spin dry and place in a large bowl. Wash, quarter and core the pears. Slice the quarters crosswise and add them to the bowl. Scatter the walnut halves over the salad. If not serving immediately, place in the refrigerator to keep well-chilled.

When ready to serve, add the lemon juice, olive oil and seasonings. Toss well and place on chilled plates. Sprinkle with Feta and serve.

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Looking for more salad ideas? Here are a few:

Mema’s Chef Salad for a Crowd

Beautiful Green Bean and Cherry Tomato Salad

3 thoughts on “Salads – A Great Start or End to a Beautiful Meal

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