Thursday, July 28, 2011

Not Yer Mama's Salad

I love recipes. Cookbooks, websites, television shows--any source is welcome, but unlike my husband, I don't like to just "wing it" when it comes to cooking. In baking, of course, following a recipe is crucial, because you are dealing with chemistry. This means that if you add baking powder instead of baking soda, too much salt or not enough oil, you are going to be very disappointed with your final result. Though mixing flavors in dinner dishes is not quite as unforgiving, my husband is much better at it than I. Perhaps because I am a baker at heart, I don't like to experiment with my cooking.

One would think that when it comes to salad, a recipe would be unnecessary. There's no heat element involved, and not much variation of ingredients to work with, so why bother following instructions? Iceberg or romaine lettuce, celery, cucumber and a big ol' tomato. I grew up viewing salad as a peripheral--a boring but necessary add-on to dinner.

But then my kitchen disappeared, and kind friends took pity on us and invited us over for dinner. When they brought a big salad bowl filled with lime-cilantro chicken, provolone cheese and avocado to the table, followed by a colorful, spicy chicken salad topped with crisp tortilla strips, suddenly salad seemed like a great idea. When I raved to my friend about how delicious her salads were, she pulled out a cookbook. OK, maybe "cook"book isn't a completely accurate description. But she told me she swears by it, and as an avid cookbook user with one or two particular books that I refer to again and again, I knew exactly what she meant. As I flipped through the beautiful photos in Raising the Salad Bar, all my memories of iceberg lettuce, cucumbers and hothouse tomatoes flew out of my head. This was definitely not my mom's salad world.

Fresh fruits and vegetables are readily available in my area. Herbs and spices are growing in my garden. I have more flavors of vinegar than you could shake a stick at. Inspired, I decided maybe it was time to start experimenting.

The best part is that, though I love vegetables, I can't see myself as a strict vegetarian just yet. This book of recipes shows me how to incorporate grilled beef, salmon, chicken, shrimp and other proteins into interesting, beautiful and most importantly, delicious salads. No longer an afterthought, salad is about to become a meal staple--if not the meal itself--in my house. Sorry Mom. Not to give your iceberg lessons the cold shoulder, but it looks like my salads are about to grow up.

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