Salads 101

Jan. 11th, 2012 01:07 pm
opusculus: Digital Devil Saga's Argilla's voring mouthboobs (Cannibal mouthboobs)
[personal profile] opusculus
Lately I've been trying to get the hang of salads. I grew up having salad as the designated side with dinner every night, and there's something about that that makes it come off as really, deeply and sincerely, boring to me. All I ever had, and all I ever did when I took over the family cooking was lettuce + random dressing. BORING. And making the lettuce the main course never quite…worked for me? I always felt weirdly dissatisfied.

But I bring my lunch to work most days, and while I have no problems filling it on days that I cook myself something the night before, I really needed something besides frozen tamales/burritos/chicken pot pies etc. to fill it on the days I don't. So! Salads are something I can do in 10 minutes even if they're a bit on the complicated side, and I have these adorable little sauce thingies that I can use to put my dressing in so it doesn't get all soggy, and therefore they seem like a good solution to that. I like sandwiches more, but I hate pre made sandwiches because they get all soggy and the flavors mix and sometimes it's still fine if I really, really loved the sandwich in the first place but I just don't like them as much. And my usual objection to salads - that they're not filling - is kind of negated by the fact that I pack that lunchbox FULL, dudes. I have breakfast (yogurt with fruit or fruit and cheese, normally), miscellaneous fruits to serve as snacks, miscellaneous chocolate to serve as desserts (Green and Black's Maya Gold is the most delicious thing ever, for the record), miscellaneous cheeses to serve as snacks in case the fruits aren't enough, and maybe a cookie or two just for bonus, and usually in the morning it's kind of bulging out at the sides. I usually don't finish all this, but I like having snacks available and if I don't have fruit available I feel grumpy all day. And there's basically no restaurants nearby that actually serve fruit, which is really great incentive to have it available.

But since I've never actually really made salad, I'm sort of in the process of teaching myself how to make a good salad. So here's a summary of what I've been learning about how to make a satisfying salad from what I have available.

1. Good olive oil + garlic + whatever vinegar I feel like is the best dressing ever. At some point I will probably need to vary this a little more, but it's honestly really easy to mince a clove into the olive oil/vinegar mix right before I leave in the morning and I love garlic. Tentative ideas for adding flavor via the dressing beyond the obvious of changing up the oil and vinegar: Miso. Worcestershire sauce. Anchovy paste. Maybe fish sauce? IDK, all these seem to be leading towards adding umami, but I'm not sure that's the only way to go. I think liquids in general that you keep in your kitchen cabinet at all times tend to lead in umami directions though. Spices could work too, of course. But I usually grind them fresh because I think they taste best and meh on that for a quick salad.
2. If you don't want to rip up the lettuce yourself (and I don't because fuck effort), get the freshest pre washed packaged stuff you can find. I get most my produce from one of the stores specializing in it because it's fresh. Unless my produce is ridiculously fresh I always seem to end up with it in my veggie drawer eyeing it dolefully. I aim for the ones that have the most variety and ideally some herbs, but honestly I mostly go for the cheapest because it doesn't make that much of a difference to me.
3. Primary protein! This is pretty much only if you're making them a meal of your salad, obviously. I have always loved eggs in salads, so that seems to be becoming my default. I also have this awesome round vented container thing that lets me hard boil an egg or two in the microwave in a minute without having to peel it (and if I feel like adding in, say, mustard or cheese to my egg - I totally can!) Other things I regularly throw in: Tuna, leftover meat, theoretically I'd put in bacon if I were to bother making it just for a salad, etc. I guess cottage cheese might go here? Honestly the few times I've tried it my response was a big fat meh. Or beans, if you like beans, I guess. I really love eggs in salads, though.
4. Secondary protein! This is applicable whether or not I'm making a meal salad, because goddamn do I love goat cheese in my salad. These are the ones that are normally 50% flavoring and 50% filling, ime - they're much stronger flavors than the primary protein, so you don't want to put so much in there that it makes for a satisfying meal on its own, but they're nice accents that really keep the salad from getting boring. I'd put cheese, nuts, and very strong flavored meats like smoked salmon or prosciutto in here. I almost always have some kind of cheese around and do nuts depending on my mood. Meats are rarer because I just don't usually have them around but I think they make the best salads - I had a smoked salmon and egg salad today that was to die for.
5. Other vegetables! This seems like an area with more room to experiment than I really have just yet. I love green beans and onions and I am trying to get over my being grossed out by raw tomatoes because I love the taste. I think as long as they're tasty raw or can be tastily cooked via microwave, I could pretty much add anything. Also there's a place nearby that sells the most delicious, thinnest asparagus all spring long. Beets are also the most wonderful thing ever in salads ♥♥♥ ...Seriously I have had my whole night ruined by a restaurant telling me that beet salad is out of season.
6. Carbs. Honestly I have never liked croutons because they're too crispy to be eaten with a fork but everything else can be eaten with a fork so whyyyyyy. And they're just kind of meh taste wise. Same goes for tortilla chips and those little fried noodle thingies you get in generic Asian salads. I guess if I ever actually do pick up a baking bread habit I could start tossing in a roll or two. Also, I hate sweet salads and dried fruit in salads is just wrong to me. I don't object as strongly to fruit that isn't dried? But it's just not my thing.
7. Miscellaneous flavor adding ideas: Capers. Herbs. Sprouts. Those cans of fried onions that are so disappointing when you actually try them. Pimentos. Olives. Black peppers. I think the thing about this kind of miscellaneous strongly flavored thing is that they should be minced up tinily and distributed mostly but not entirely evenly, so you can usually get a bit of it with every bite but sometimes you'll get more or less.

So really the key to not getting bored of salads is variety. I guess I should've guessed that earlier, huh.

...I don't know if this is the worst icon for food or the best icon for food.
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