You have the power to manifest a mighty salad

Vegetables are the money shot of salads. All the other ingredients I’ve ranted about in previous columns have been just leading up to this, the glory of salad, the way to actually enjoy eating vegetables.

Before I got into the salad K-hole, I thought veggies were just something my mom rammed down my throat over my howl of protestations, that I grudgingly forced down because there was a pile of candy waiting for me at the end of that tasteless, flavorless, vegetal tunnel. I thought of vegetables as the culinary hair-shirt. It wasn’t until my little brother first served me a parsley salad, with fried pumpkin seeds, that I realized that vegetables could be prepared so that they were actually cravable. Like, I could eat a giant salad for dinner without feeling totally deprived and bitter about not getting a buttery starch log.

I don’t like salads that are supposed to be lo-cal, or lo-joule as they say down undah. I got Liz Taylor’s diet book, charmingly titled Elizabeth Takes Off! — she’s so cute! — and there is nary a salad that I’d actually want to make. I do love her stories about getting wasted with Richard Burton, but her salads that are like lettuce, carrot, celery and out-of-season cherry tomatoes, with one tablespoon of vegetable oil, lemon juice, and Sweet ‘n Lo? I mean, it is from 1987, but still, damn, Elizabeth! That’s the best your fancy chefs could come up with?! I don’t like Alice Waters as a human, but I will give her some credit for dragging salads out of the Dark Ages. 

To make a dank salad, my previous columns listed the principles of a good salad, and some of the ways the ingredients should be treated. This time, I’m going to talk about methods I use to prepare non-lettuce veggies.

As I have said previously, I think the single most vital characteristic of a truly kick-ass salad is the number of ingredients. I can like some few ingredient salads — that parsley salad, as long as it is prepared in a certain way, is one of them — but mostly, salads with five plus ingredients are the best way to create a salad that will make your heart sing.

If you can stick to what is seasonal, from your garden or the farmers’ market, all the better, but even if you can just grab stuff at Costco it’s worth putting 10 minutes into making your salad extra sick.

There are no vegetables I don’t like, but some of my favorites include:

Sugar snap peas:  wash, string and chop in half. 

Carrots: if you can only get some things organic, get organic root vegetables, so they tell me. Peel your carrots, cut into ½ inch thick coins, put in a frying pan with a splash of water and olive oil, cook until the water is gone and they are browning on one side. Turn them for another 3 minutes on the other side, add a teaspoon each of soy sauce and honey, cook one more minute and take off the heat.   Or if you don’t fancy that just grate it raw.

Broccoli, romanesco, cauliflower: cut into small trees. Peel the stem and cut into bitey bits. Steam for 4 minutes. If you are really organized, steam the stem bits for 2 minutes, then add the trees and do another 3 minutes.

Red or orange pepper: put directly on the flame of a gas stove, running with tongs often until 80% blacked. Pick up with tongs and our straight into a small paper bag and twist shut. Let steam and cool for 10 minutes. Remove from bag and try to peel skin off without burning hands.  Chop.

Green pepper: not as good although still valuable. Chop raw into ignorable strips.

Beets and potatoes: boil whole and chop into wee cubes.  Obviously beets take like 4 times as long as potatoes.

Asparagus: Steam or pan fry, chop.

Mushrooms: wipe dirt off, chop.

Peaches, strawberries, figs, berries, apples, etc: wash, chop into wee bites. (Yes, some of these are not veggies. You’re so smart.)

Zucchini: good raw, actually, but cut into coins and fried with garlic also good. Ditto squash.

Green beans: string, steam for 3 minutes, chop.

Avocado: Yes, please.

Sprouts: Good.

Jicama: super good. Peel and bits.

Green onion: yes. NOT onions. That is just me, you do you.

Eggplant: Cube and fry with salt and sugar.

Tofu: Cube and fry with garlic and black, or any, vinegar.

Tomatoes: honestly, if not seasonal why bother. Chop.

Corn: I LOVE raw corn cut off the cob! Yes yes.

Garlic: fry and add with abandon.

Turnip: Peel, chop raw into wee bits.

Radish: Bits. Cut off bad bits.

There are a lot of other vegetables. Almost all of them are good. Jerusalem artichokes are particularly yummy but they wreak havoc with your insides. Worth it, though.