My least favorite part of a salad is the vegetables, and in particular, the leafy greens. If I could just make a salad out of fried nuts, seeds, marinated fried tofu, feta, and smoked fish that counted the same as a big pile of kale, I’d never eat greens again. My sister in law Claire has somehow convinced her brain that bitter greens are delicious, so she and Max don’t just eat bitter greens, they make bitter extracts — on purpose — and take them by the shot. I am more of a shots of bourbon kind of person, but I admire their ability to make their palates appreciate things that taste awful and are very healthy. I do try and include mild bitters in my salads, like mizuna or dandelion greens, because they are so staggeringly nutritious. The only way to make them palatable raw is to mince as finely as possible.
Lettuces, and greens like spinach and chard and kale, serve a vital purpose in salads, crunch-wise. I may not love the flavor but the crisp texture of lettuce is an important foil to the richness of the non-green ingredients. Dark leafy greens add color and that minerally green taste that lets you know It’s Good For You. For the real lettuce hater, there are a bunch of leafless salads from Eastern Europe, which are more like Bowls Of Mayonnaise with Veggie Cube Garnish. I don’t like eating my mayo with a spoon (they call it “Salad Cream” — I am deadly serious). However, their principle of finely chopped non-leafy vegetables is a good one. I like maybe 20% chopped leafy greens, 15% lettuces, and 65% Other.
A note about kale. If you’re going to put raw kale in your salad, which is easy to grow and available in non-chip form, it’s important to give it a good oily rub-down beforehand, so it has time to sit and get chewable. Take 3 or 4 leaves of kale, and de-stem. Sprinkle leaves with salt, oil, and acid — lemon juice or vinegar — and massage your leaves like Rocky Balboa after a big fight.
Let the leaves sit quietly post rub-down, for at least 10 minutes, and up to 30. Then, rip or mince into smallish bits. Chard and spinach don’t need so much attention, but they do need to be chopped and de-stemmed.
Another underused leafy green is parsley. I love parsley as a major salad ingredient, but it needs the same tenderizing routine as kale. Salt oil lemon juice, rub, rest, finely chop. I use more parsley than lettuce myself because it tastes better. As for onions in salad, I am not a huge raw allium person, although I often include fried garlic, but this time of year chives are a beautiful way of getting a hint of onion flavor, as well as gorgeous purple flowers.
A perfect summer way to tart up your plain jane salad is flowers. I stick to orange nasturtiums and purple chive blossom, because that is what I have, but real plant nerds can tell you which of the flowers in your area are edible. Nothing makes a salad look more summery and awesome than beautiful summer and fall flowers!
Next time: Dealing with your non-leafy vegetables.
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