The first salads I remember eating were made of iceberg lettuce jazzed up with Mom's homemade dressing of white vinegar, vegetable oil, and salt. A salty, crunchy delight which is what I grew up knowing to be Salad. When I got a little older I learned to adore the addition of Dad's homegrown Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes.
Through the years I've had some not-very-good salads: iceberg lettuce with shaved carrots; hard, flavorless, pink tomatoes; anemic, bland cucumber slices you could read through; some purple-strand thing; occasionally & unfortunately some plasticized cheese; and lots of dense dressing designed to cover the unripe flavors it smothered. Ugh. No wonder the dinner rolls held more appeal!
Then one day several years ago, I had a Salad Epiphany. It was my first dinner at Scotti's on East 185th Street. Honestly, I can't remember what my entrée was (no doubt it was delicious), but I can tell you that the salad which preceded it was tremendous.
First of all, the salad wasn't served in a deep white cereal bowl, but on a clear, shallow salad plate. This meant I got to see all the ingredients which had been arranged so nicely on a bed of richly colored mixed greens. Thickly sliced black olives; a hearty slice or two of lovely bright red tomato; thick chunks of deliciously flavorful cucumber, rich, crunchy walnuts; fresh creamy ribbons of cheese; and the yummiest salad dressing I'd ever had.
Who knew you could put nuts on salad? Who knew their subtly sweet crunch would add depth to the vegetables' flavors? And the dressing! Oh the dressing! Homemade, flavorful, and fresh with herbs and just the right amount of tang, it changed forever what I'd expect from salad dressing.
Thanks to Scotti's salads, I've learned to experiment with the salads I make at home. On occasion I iceberg lettuce for my family's sake, but it's joined by a host of green leafies, raisins, dried cranberries, fresh fruit, almonds, walnuts, pecans, broccoli, – whatever's in the house that looks like it needs to be in that salad.
In my growing appreciation for salads, I've found that greens really do have flavors and that salads don't have to follow a formula pushed by unimaginative restaurants, the likes of which won't be mentioned here. Every salad can be as unique as a snowflake. Just as children are eager to catch snowflakes on their tongues, so am I now eager for beautifully crafted salads.