The perfect salad is not simply greens with dressing - it's a deconstructed sandwich, with or without bread.
It has body, it has intrigue, it has a dynamic play between contrasting flavors and textures. I've written about meat salads before [my favorite way to eat lettuce: with warm meat, slightly wilted lettuce, a hot butter dressing, and some cheese and soft sautéed vegetables]. See, it's not that I don't like to eat vegetables... I just prefer them cooked, in fat and salt. I firmly believe we have evolved in such a way that cooked vegetables (and meat) are easier for our stomach bacteria and apparatus to digest. Michael Pollan in his 2013 book Cooked discusses:
According to the “cooking hypothesis,” the advent of cooked food altered the course of human evolution. By providing our forebears with a more energy-dense and easy-to-digest diet, it allowed our brains to grow bigger (brains being notorious energy guzzlers) and our guts to shrink. It seems that raw food takes much more time and energy to chew and digest, which is why other primates our size carry around substantially larger digestive tracts and spend many more of their waking hours chewing— as much as six hours a day.
Cooking, in effect, took part of the work of chewing and digestion and performed it for us outside of the body, using outside sources of energy. Also, since cooking detoxifies many potential sources of food, the new technology cracked open a treasure trove of calories unavailable to other animals. Freed from the necessity of spending our days gathering large quantities of raw food and then chewing (and chewing) it, humans could now devote their time, and their metabolic resources, to other purposes, like creating a culture.
Note: In the book, Michael Pollan allows that fermenting foods is an auxiliary way of digesting raw products.
This brings to me salads, and boredom. Are you bored of salads? I am. I'm bored watching you eat that dull mixed green salad with balsamic vinaigrette. How about something with soul? How about eating something exciting? Something that has you saying out loud "Damn! That is good!"
I'm not going to give you a recipe. There is no recipe for The Perfect Salad. The Perfect Salad requires flexibility and creativity. The Perfect Salad is up to you.
Here is a loose template - Pick some or all [at least four] elements
1. Greens: any kind of lettuce or delicate green, with strong or mild flavor; rip into rough 1"x1" pieces [nothing worse than a too-large piece of lettuce... NOTHING]
2. Sautéed vegetables: on medium heat, fry in butter/lard with salt: onions, garlic, carrots, apples, squash, shelled fava beans [anything of that genre] until soft
3. Meat: shredded chicken or rabbit is good, ground beef/lamb/bison/pork [especially when cooked with espresso balsamic vinegar], warm coppa chunks. Prepare a decent amount.
4. Cold items: lacto-fermented pickles/garlic, sauerkraut, fresh pea shoots, sprouts, thinly sliced apple, radish slices
5. Cheese: I recommend Delice de Bourgogne [a ripe triple cream that melts deliciously when coming in contact with warm salad elements], vintage Irish Dubliner, shredded Glendale Shepard's Island Brebis, smoked applewood cheddar, goat brie, Danish blue, Roquefort, Bucheron, or basically anything that catches your fancy. [No, plain chevre from Trader Joe's is not acceptable. There is so much more to the world of food than Trader Joe's chevre.] Good cheese is worth the money.
6. Hot butter dressing: Melt a lot of butter. I use at least 2 tablespoons for one serving. Never melt butter in the microwave. Buy a small saucepan, cut butter into chunks [$1 kitchen scissors work great for this], and melt over medium-heat. You don't need a snazzy dressing when your salad ingredients are high-quality and exciting on their own. Let's get our salad excitement from the components of the salad, not the processed liquid we pour on top, shall we?
7. Roasted root vegetables: only if already planned - no need to start a roast just for a meat salad. Coat in fat, salt, season [put a chile in the pan, or some herbs] potatoes, yams, fennel root, onion, whole garlic cloves, beets, etc. Roast at 350-400° until gentle.
8. Bread chunks: the best available [in Olympia, that's The Bread Peddler], preferably handmade from a fermented sourdough starter, toasted and cut into 1"x1" chunks, and massaged with butter or smothered in hot butter
Pour melted butter over the lettuce. Mix. If your oven was on, put bowl with lettuce in for a minute or two to further wilt the lettuce. Wilted lettuce = good lettuce. Don't burn it! If you burn it, pour more butter on it.
Throw everything together in a bowl. Not everything in your kitchen, just the things that your bacteria points to. I think 5-6 combined elements is the way to do The Perfect Salad; ensuring they are elements [having been cooked or fermented in some way] and not just ingredients [shredded carrots or dried cranberries].
Go all out but/and use restraint. Use crunchy salt like the pink delicate Murray River salt [available at Buck's Fifth Ave].
Hey, guess what?! You don't have to use pepper. Contrary to popular recipes, it is not an essential part of every meal and can cause gut irritation [especially when pre-ground].
Salt, however, is essential to your survival. Your body literally cannot survive without it. Dehydrated? Hungover? Drink salted water [better: 1tsp salt and 2tsp sugar dissolved in water]. The argument that the average American diet contains more than the recommended amount of sodium and it's better to not add it? That's based on a diet of fast food and frozen dinners.
If you eat mostly whole foods, you're not getting enough salt unless you add it. And you should be eating mostly whole foods. So buy yourself some good salt and use it!
Tip: Always eat salad from a bowl, so you can easily scoop up every morsel and there's no chasing it around the plate.
Brag about your delicious Perfect Salad.
Don't share. Call someone and describe it to them.
Challenge that friend to create an interesting salad.
Say NO THANK YOU to boring salads.
There's a lot of bad food in the world. Let's talk about the good food.