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
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
- A nice, sturdy, sharp kitchen knife
- A chopping board (wood or plastic? I've heard it both ways, but
which ever you use, make sure you clean and disinfect, since you don't
want to transmit
the Deadly Lettuce Bacterium to your raw chicken)
- Grater (if you don't have one, you can use a potato peeler)
- A Potato Peeler (see, you needed one anyway)
- A Plastic Storage-type receptacle with lid (something you can both mix
and store in)
- A Kitchen Rag (something to clean up with; also you can dampen it and
put it under the chopping board to keep the board from slipping)
- 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 meal...at 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
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.
- 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
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,
various sorts, cherry tomatoes, onions, olives, fruits, beets (ugh), ham,
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
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.
- Laugh with maniacal glee as you
cut the lettuce in half (the long way).
- Take one half, looking at the
innards of the lettuce, and place the flat side down. Starting about an
inch from the stem (the non-leafy side), make 4 or 5 long
cuts, about 1-2 inches apart, down the length of the lettuce.
- Scrunch the lettuce in your
hand and rotate the lettuce on the board so that it is perpendicular to your
arm. Starting at the leafy end, slice the lettuce (making cuts that are,
obviously, perpendicular to the cuts you made before), keeping the cuts
about 1-2 inches apart. Stop cutting when you get close to the stem
(this depends on how much salad you need to squeeze out of this head).
Discard the stem.
- Do the other half (or put it in the crisper)
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.
the lettuce by the hair, er, gripping the head from the top,
slam the lettuce down on the chopping board, so that the
core (on the bottom) impacts the chopping board. This loosens the core,
so that you can sink your fingers in, twist the core, and
yank it out of the head.
Repeat slams as necessary. (You can also slam it against a wall, but then
you have to clean the wall. Or not.)
- Place the now-spineless head on the chopping board. Cut the head in
- Take one half and place it flat on the chopping board. Make cuts
about two inches apart.
- Turn the half 90 degrees, then make cuts perpendicular to the first
cuts. In theory, you get lettuce squares 2x2.
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.
NOW YOU ARE READY TO MAKE PRETTY SALAD
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:
[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]
- Rip a few of the
outer leaves off the lettuce.
- Rinse them under running cold water.
- Tear up the lettuce with your hands. Throw it in a bowl.
- 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.
- 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
- Take anything else you can find and throw it in the salad. Mix with
hands or fork. Slather on oil & vinegar, or salad dressing.
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