The Salad Days of My Youth

Not so long ago, I spent a few months working at a chain restaurant, working as a prep cook, which mostly meant that I made salads in bulk and strove to keep the salad dressing tubs filled. The latter part isn't particularly relevant, except to say that in a really cold walk-in refrigerator, when your hands are turning numb, the quickest way to distinguish between identical-looking tubs of bleu cheese and ranch salad dressing is to simply dip your finger in and taste.

Things you will need to be a Salad King

Kitchen Utensil-type Things
Food-Type Things
Green Stuff
This is very important for your basic salad, since your basic salad is designed to counteract all the effects of the evil stuff you are eating with the rest of your least that's what you're telling yourself. Hence, lettuce: I like to use romaine, because it's more fun to cut (I'm easily amused...and it's not smart to laugh at a man holding a nice, sturdy, sharp kitchen knife), but the optimum mix, according to proprietary-type information garnered from months in the restaurant biz, is something like a ratio of between 2-4 heads of iceberg lettuce for every head of romaine, the reasoning being thus: Iceberg is cheaper. Spinach is also a green thing, but is more of a condiment, since it doesn't store well wet.

Colored Stuff
This includes stuff to make things taste more interesting, like shredded carrot, and stuff to make things look pretty, like chopped radish and red cabbage (which tastes awful...but do you want to look good or not?). Note that this includes only the stuff that is in the actual salad mix, and not the type of condiment stuff that goes on top (in other words, stuff that might not keep well when it's mixed in a sodden mass of lettuce.)

This includes the actual flavor for the salad, cuz let's face it: lettuce is simply not much of a taste explosion. Old standbys include mushrooms, alfalfa sprouts, hard-boiled eggs, cucumbers, soybean sprouts, beans of various sorts, cherry tomatoes, onions, olives, fruits, beets (ugh), ham, cottage cheese, shreddable cheeses, small churches, etc.

Other Distractions
These are pretty much fixins' that you have to buy, and that you can store for a long time in a pantry. This is mostly dry, crunchy stuff, like bacon bits (imitation or otherwise), croutons, raisins, and noodles. Finally, there is whatever salad dressing you desire/can afford; cheapest is a big thing of olive oil and vinegar.

Making Mass Quantities of Salad

Technically, you will not be making mass quantities of salad, unless you are serving a busload of people or you are a California produce farmer desperately trying to unload the current crop before the next rains come...oh God, the rains, the rains, make it stop!!! What I'm talking about here is enough salad to keep you in green stuff for the next week, or possible even longer, depending on your tolerance of and/or willingness to pick out brownish and decaying lettuce. The size of your container is also an important limiting factor. (You can also jump ahead to the "eating alone and I don't care what it looks like" quick and dirty salad guide.)
First, like many people not affiliated with the restaurant business, you do not have a tractor trailer backing up to your door with a cargo of vegetables on a weekly basis. Walk (don't run--you don't want to hurt yourself, or do anything that might keep you from your mission) to the grocery and buy the stuff that you think you might want on your salad. Lettuce should be green, crisp, and damp, with minimal markings, browning, mushy leaves, and used syringes.

Assuming you have a home, or other place where you prepare food, get out your trusty, sturdy, sharp kitchen knife and chopping board. Now:

For Romaine Lettuce
Place the lettuce on the chopping board. Note that the lettuce has bilateral symmetry, as does a human being. Pretend that the lettuce is a person that you would enjoy bisecting along that center line.

Congratulations. You are well on your way to becoming a salad king.

For Iceberg Lettuce
The head of lettuce actually resembles a human head, with a core that is very much like a neck, except of course, a lettuce head has no central nervous system, so you can slaughter it without remorse.

What do I do with all this lettuce?

Take the now-cut lettuce. Put it in your handy storage container. Fill it with cold water, and swirl it around. Cover the container with the lid, and shake. Drain the water out.


Quick And Dirty Salad Guide

You're back from work, tired, hungry, in desperate need of leafy green vegetables. You've disregarded my advice and allowed your salad stock to be depleted. But you still have a quarter head of yellowing lettuce in the fridge, and bits and pieces of other stuff. You can still enjoy a salad. Here's how:

  1. Rip a few of the outer leaves off the lettuce.
  2. Rinse them under running cold water.
  3. Tear up the lettuce with your hands. Throw it in a bowl.
  4. Take a carrot. Bite the ends off & spit them into garbage. Peel carrot with a potato peeler. When the skin is gone, hold over bowl and peeling carrot bits into the lettuce. When carrot is too far gone to shred, eat the stump.
  5. Take a few mushrooms. Rinse them under cold water and slice them up (with knife or potato peeler. Or break up by hand). Throw them in the bowl.
  6. Take anything else you can find and throw it in the salad. Mix with hands or fork. Slather on oil & vinegar, or salad dressing.
  7. Eat.
[the rest of this guide will consist of things to put on the salad. But, hey, you're on the Internet; you're a smart person: until then, you can figure it out]
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