Basic Summer Salad
Not really a recipe but a suggestion on how to build a salad fit for dinner during hot summer weather. No one wants to face cooking dinner in a screaming hot kitchen but we need to eat something no matter the temperature. Take out is not always an option for various reasons.
A Bit of Salad History
In Latin sal means salt and it is the basis for the word salad. Salt or brine was included in salad dressings from earliest times.
The concept of salad is probably as ancient as mankind. Hunter-gathers would live off of the raw vegetation, fruits and nuts they found growing around them, however there is no indication they used dressings. Salad has been defined in modern times as a mixture of greens with a dressing of some type.
Ancient Greeks and Romans enjoyed many types of salads consisting of raw vegetables. The Romans ate salads types that would be recognized today and used dressings that contained salt brine, oil and vinegar. Herbs were often added. Dinner salads, as we define them now, were popular during the Renaissance period in Europe. In the 1800s what might now be called a chief salad with multiple layers of cooked and raw ingredients, was enjoyed in the Americas.
A trend to serve organized food entered the food scene in the 1900s and salads of meats and vegetables were turned into orderly concoctions and presented at table in a geometric shape achieved by the use of a copper or tin mold. Gelatin in either vegetable or meat flavor was usually the base ingredient that glued such time consuming creations together in perfect order. Dressings were cooked or egg based mayonnaise types and often used only as a garnish on top of the molded gelatin salad and not as a binder. Raw greens or lettuce would be laid in neat layers on the individual salad plate and the molded gelatin blob dotted with bits of meat and vegetables encased in it would be centered on the leaves before serving. To the ‘modern’ mind of the time a bowl of greens with unrestrained vegetables topped with slices of meat was considered uncivilized.
By the 1920s Americans ate salads at meals more often, although it was usually of the dreaded Jell-O Perfection Salad variety. The odd salad combined gelatin with meat and a few vegetables combined with vinegar and seasonings. If you want to terrorize a small child for life, force them to eat that type of horrid salad. Wiggling food is pure terror to some kids unless it contains nothing but fruit. Maybe what bothered me at age four was Mom telling me it had fish in it.
By the 1960s salads swung around to the chief salad style once again, large bowls of crisp greens with a vast assortment of raw fresh vegetables along with meat and hard boiled eggs and topping it all would be seasoned toasted bread cubes and grated cheese. During those years commercial dressings expanded from the basic French, Italian and Thousand Island into a global explosion of different tastes. Eating salad once again became an adventure and if you were lucky it no longer wiggled sinisterly at you.
Potato and macaroni salads were part of American family meals since early settler times when immigrants brought the recipes of their different cultures with them to the new land. But those were usually served less often than quicker to make salads comprised of raw greens and vegetables. Macaroni salads became popular in restaurants during the 1980s and were usually were little more than over cooked macaroni with a few finely chopped raw vegetables and a thin coating of oil with vinegar and herbs. Not bad and at least the trend inspired home cooks to create their own versions.
Kind of a Chief Salad
- A combination of meats, (baked, poached, fried, grilled) and sliced in thin pieces
- 4 pieces of bacon, fried crisp and crumbled
- Torn lettuce, washed and dried
- Snipped chives or ¼ cup of minced onion or green onions
- 2 medium ripe tomatoes or a couple handfuls of cherry tomatoes
- 1 large cucumber or zucchini, sliced
- 6 or so large red radishes, cleaned and sliced thin
- 4 hard boiled eggs, peeled and sliced
- ½ cup or more of cheese, grated or crumbled
- 4 cloves of garlic, minced
- Fresh herbs, to taste, chopped fine
- Salt and pepper to taste
- A variety of homemade or commercial dressings
The total would be around a cup or more, depending on the size of the salad. Leftovers work well. Combinations of ham, chicken, beef, veal or almost any meat or fish can be used. Cut into thin slices and set aside. Fry and crumble the bacon, set aside.
A small head of lettuce or a combination of greens can be used. Wash thoroughly and dry. Tear into pieces and put in a large salad bowl. Clean and peel, if needed), the other vegetables. Chop or slice and add to the bowl. Add the herbs, salt and pepper. Toss.
Peel and slice the eggs. Add to the bowl along with the sliced and crumbled meat(s). Add the cheese on top.
Serve with toasted bread cubes and an assortment of dressings. Include crackers or bread and butter on the table.
Almost any vegetable can be used.
Use 2 cups of cooked and drained macaroni in place of lettuce. Pour a dressing of choice over the salad before serving. Leave out the toasted bread cubes.
Any cheese would be good or a combination of cheeses. Cube, grate or slice thin.
Any meat can be added or eggplant, baked or fried, or toasted nuts can be used for a vegetarian salad.
If you have small portions of bottled dressings left, combine in a jar and create something new.
Mayonnaise mixed with herbs, garlic, onion, olives avocado or other ingredients can be thinned with milk and used as a salad dressing. Worcestershire sauce, mustard or horseradish sauce are good additions.