I love salad. Especially a salad of soaked, spun, crisped lettuce with a simple dressing of extra virgin olive oil, fresh squeezed lemon juice, smooth Dijon mustard, pressed garlic, sea salt and fresh ground pepper.
I've been making two or three of these salads every week since I first learned to make them on a bicycle trip through France in the summer of 1973, almost 45 years ago. That's about 7,000 salads!
I bicycled several hundred miles through France that summer, first from north to south with my sister Robin, and then from west to east by myself. I stayed with 13 French families as a SERVAS traveler. Almost everyone of them had one of these kitchen gardens:
The family would pick the lettuce from the garden, more often than not a Bibb or Boston type lettuce, to use in that day's dinner or supper, soak it in cold water in the kitchen sink, spin it dry, then crisp it in the fridge while making a simple dressing in the bottom of a wooden salad bowl, and then tossing the crisped lettuce in the dressing just before serving it. I learned how to make a salad this way by watching this process over and over and tasting the result. I had grown up on ice berg lettuce and bottled dressing, so this was a new taste sensation. I never looked back, never once again had ice berg lettuce and bottled dressing. When I married Marilyn, I brought salad making to our joint kitchen, and fish, as my primary initial contributions, including a wooden salad bowl and a salad spinner. I would go on to step it up to another level through the discovery of Caesar Salad, which I'll blog about another time. But here is how I make a simple salad.
Prepping the Lettuce
First, you have to start with good lettuce. Tonight I used some of the greens I picked up yesterday in my first FreshCSA from Trifecta Ecosystems in Meriden. Begin by soaking the greens in a large bowl of cold water:
Then spin out the water in a salad spinner:
Then dump out the water in the bottom of the spinner, put some paper towel in the bottom, put the basket with the lettuce back in the spinner, put another paper towel on top of the lettuce, put the top back on the spinner, and put the spinner in the fridge while you make the dressing. The paper towels will draw any residual water away from the greens to help them crisp in the fridge.
Even better, wash and spin the lettuce before you make any of the rest of the meal, and let it crisp in the fridge the whole time you make the meal, then bring it out and toss with the dressing just before you serve it. In France, this would be at the very end of the meal.
Making the Dressing
Here are the ingredients I use for a simple salad dressing:
For a small head of lettuce, I use 2 T of extra virgin olive oil, 1 T of fresh squeezed lemon juice, 1 tsp smooth Dijon mustard, 1 clove of pressed garlic, a pinch of sea salt and a few grinds of black pepper. I use Kreta Reserve EVO, which has good character without being overpowering. I use it for both salad and cooking. Will do a separate blog on it another time.
I just throw everything into the bottom of the salad bowl and mix it with one of the salad tossers, because the mustard enables you to emulsify the oil and lemon without any big effort:
Tossing the Salad
Now add the lettuce and toss:
You could eat it just like this, which is the way I eat it most of the time. But if you happen to have a nice chunk of Romano around:
You could use a vegetable peeler to shave some on top of the salad:
This is how I had it tonight. I confess: I ate the whole salad (a small one).
Use chopped onion or shallot instead of the garlic. Use an EVO with really strong character and eliminate everything except the salt and pepper. This is how my daughter Liz likes it. Use a corse grained mustard instead of the smooth Dijon I use here, or eliminate the mustard altogether. Use red wine or balsamic vinegar instead of lemon. Use Parmesan, Gouda, Fontina or some other cheese you like and happen to have around. Play around with different combinations of the above till you find what you like best. I have tried it everyone of these variations many times and like them all, but I like the combination of my not-overpowering olive oil, lemon, smooth Dijon, a little garlic and sea salt and fresh ground pepper the best. But that's just me.
I don't usually add croutons to a simple salad, but they are essential to a Caesar Salad. They are really easy to make yourself and are so much better than store bought. I'll offer my thoughts on croutons in my Caesar Salad blog.