There are so many different kinds of salads out there: green salads, bean salads, potato salads, marinated salads, and on and on. Salads have the reputation of being healthy, and my favorites usually are, but what about the cajun fried chicken salad at Walker’s Drive-In in Jackson, MS? Chunks of spicy popcorn chicken sprinkled over greens and tomatoes, smothered in cheddar cheese (the cheese melts over the hot fried chicken) and comeback dressing. Is your mouth watering yet? Mine is. But we can’t eat like this every day (believe me I tried when I worked there in college).

Donna’s comment made me realize that there is so much more to say about green salads than ranch dressing and iceberg lettuce. As I told Donna, I regularly buy the organic spring mix in the grocery store, and when I have time I love tender heads of Boston lettuce or crunchy romaine, or bitter arugula. I’m growing lettuce for the first time in my garden. I chose Speckled Amish Butterhead and mesclun mix. They are coming up pretty well (although everything is suffering a bit right now since we’ve been pounded with thunderstorms lately. We finally got some sun today thank goodness):

Speckled Amish Butterhead

Mesclun Mix

Lettuce and salad greens like a bit of shade, especially in hot, sunny climates like the South, but you can plant them in the shade of your tomatoes or beans. They can be a border or a container plant. Some are pretty fragile though, and of course you have to watch out for rabbits.

Each lettuce has its own personality and you can make a salad according to your mood or tastes. If I’d served a salad with that salmon I made the other night for instance, I would have chosen a simple salad of arugula drizzled with freshly squeezed lemon juice and sprinkled with sea salt. Toss and grate a little Parmesan cheese and your done! The lemon would have paired nicely with the salmon and the arugula would have stood up to its strong taste.

This simple salad aside, there are a few rules I follow when making a green salad, whether it’s for a main course or for a side dish.

  1. Use very fresh greens. Make sure you wash them well. Really well (unless, of course you buy the pre-washed mix). It’s ridiculous how long it took me to learn how to clean greens. Fill a large bowl with cold water. Cut the end off the lettuce (is there a name for this part?) and put it in your compost pile. Then place the lettuce in the water, agitate the water a fair amount (but don’t damage the leaves) and then lift the greens out of the water and into a colander. Empty the bowl and repeat a few times until you don’t feel any more dirt in the bottom of the bowl. I highly recommend a salad spinner, but if you don’t have one wrap the lettuce in paper towels and try to get as much water off as possible without bruising them.
  2. Add fresh raw veggies, but not too many. I love grape tomatoes, slivers of carrots, or chunks of creamy avocado (my favorite), but big chunks of everything in the store can overwhelm. Choose just one or two to go with the lettuce and then add from there.
  3. If this is a main dish salad you need some kind of protein. I love grilled tofu or shredded chicken or turkey. Or you could choose garbanzo beans or a bean salad. Whatever you like.
  4. Something sweet is always a nice surprise. It can be grapes, raisins, dried cranberries, apples, pears, whatever you fancy.
  5. Cheese usually goes well with the sweet ingredient. I love goat cheese, Parmesan, and feta but you could also use fresh mozzerella or cheddar.
  6. Nuts go well with cheese or with the sweet ingredient. Make sure you chop them up a little so that they are easy to incorporate with the other ingredients.
  7. The salad is always better when you can toss it with the dressing. Choose a bowl that’s large and wide and use tongs or a salad set. I often use Annie’s or Newman’s Own dressing, but it’s so easy to make your own, and if you have a lot of ingredients I’ve found it’s better to keep it simple on the dressing.
  8. Dressing: There are oh-so-many ways to go with this, but my favorite is to use toasted sesame oil, walnut oil, or some other nut oil, a little vinegar or lemon, a little salt and pepper, and maybe some herbs if I’m feeling indulgent. My latest fave is just a sprinkling of toasted sesame oil, a squeeze of lemon and a dash of salt & pepper. These oils are chock full of the “good fats” that help cognitive process, protect vital organs, and make vitamins “bioavailable” to the body. Also, by not cooking it, but just sprinkling the oil over the food you are getting the best it has to offer rather than changing its composition by cooking with it.

Not only do you have the good fats in the dressing, but you also have the plethora of vitamins, minerals, protein and nutrients in the vegetables, nuts, and cheese. A power packed, delicious meal and you didn’t even have to cook anything!