If you scan the tables of America’s favorite eateries, from foodie to fast-casual, you’ll witness many variations of a certain salad. A base of leaves, piled high with chicken, shrimp, cheese and croutons, as well as other foods that may or may not be raw, and may or may not be vegetables. One gets the feeling that these over-garnished deli platters are aimed less at “real” salad eaters and more at people who have been told by their families, friends and doctors to eat salad. If one isn’t so into raw veggies, this kind of salad allows one to eat salad by dipping a crouton into ranch dressing.
While it may seem like cheating, there is actually historical precedent for such decadent interpretations of salad. Larousse Gastronomique by Prosper Montagne, an authoritative encyclopedia of classic gastronomy published in 1938, defines salad as a dish “ … made up of herbs, plants, vegetables, eggs, meat and fish.” You’d think Montagne wrote his book in a booth at the IHOP.
But there is an important caveat to his apparent condoning of busy salads. A good salad, Montagne writes, “ … freshens without enfeebling and fortifies without irritating.” If I only ate croutons and cheese, I’d feel more enfeebled and irritated. But if freshened and fortified are how you want your body to feel, definitely consider raw vegetables.
My wife is completely satisfied with raw leaves, in part because she is the salad whisperer and has the ability to make perfect salads with laser-leveled flavors. She thoughtfully analyzes the raw materials, and creates a game plan for an awesome salad, including a custom dressing. I respect the leaves more than I love them. With some delicious lube to make the leaves go down, I’m happy. For me, salad is not so much something that is made of raw vegetables, but a method of eating them.
With their fibers and vitamins, raw plant parts are the best things you can eat. The problem is, they don’t fill you up. A good-sized salad will still leave your belly wanting more, unless the veggies are eclipsed by empty calories or followed by a serving of lasagna. If you eat enough leaves, of course, you will eventually get full. But the trick is to stay focused on the raw plant parts. The way to do this, I have found, is to make a dressing that is extra decadent, and omit the other bells and whistles.
For today’s recipe, I borrow the dressing my wife uses when she’s eating alone and too lazy to make a salad. At such times, she eats straight radicchio, head after head, dipping the wedges or peeled-off leaves into a three-way mix of olive oil, soy sauce and vinegar. Radicchio disappears this way, as she dips it in dressing and crunches it down. I split her dressing up into parts, to be combined later. The vinegar part of the dressing goes onto the leaves, while the oil and soy sauce are added later with bits of meat and other chunks.
Saucy (Meaty Brussels-y Sprout-y) Salad
-One softball-sized head of radicchio, sliced thin as if by deli machine (think coleslaw, but thinner)
-Roughly the same amount of romaine lettuce, similarly cut (or use mostly romaine, if radicchio is too bitter for you)
-A medium-sized sweet or yellow onion, sliced in half and then into thin arcs
-Two cloves garlic (pressed, grated or pounded)
-Sliced cucumber, to taste
-Half-pound lean ground red meat (or alternative meat or protein)
Twelve Brussels sprouts, trimmed and sliced lengthwise (or another vegetable like asparagus)
Olive oil (1/2 cup), soy sauce (1/4 cup) cider vinegar (2 tablespoons)
Toss the radicchio and romaine with the vinegar, cucumber, half of the macerated garlic and half of the sliced onions, and set in the fridge. Pour the olive oil into a pan, and heat the meat, breaking it up into pieces with a spatula. Add the Brussels sprouts to the pan, cut sides down, and the rest of the onions on top. Cook slowly with the lid on, allowing the onions to give their moisture as the meat browns but doesn’t burn, and the Brussels sprouts soften. When the water is running low, add the soy sauce and the rest of the garlic, and stir.
What you have, at this point, is a lusty sauce that could be poured over noodles or some other empty carb. If the veggies sucked up too much oil, add more to the pan, so the dressing is as greasy as it is meaty and salty. Let it cool for at least 10 minutes, then spoon it onto your salad.
For what it’s worth (a lot, I would argue), the salad whisperer approves of this recipe.