As summer gets closer I am encouraged to see the garden grow, and know that soon we will have our own veggies from the garden. Salad is a staple at our house during the warm season, and I love being able to gather the ingredients from the back yard. I remember as a kid that the usual salad was with iceberg lettuce before we had a garden. That got me thinking about the evolution of salad…
My Gramps used to talk about lettuce like it was a wild plant, which seemed pretty strange to me. He spoke of using dandelion greens in a salad (not very appealing in my book – as a five year old, I thought he was teasing me when he said the kids were sent out to pick them, trying to get me to do the dirty work in the yard!) He also talked about “lamb’s quarters” which sounded equally suspicious (I would learn later that what we now eat in many mesclun salad mixes had that earlier name because it has a “leg of mutton” sort of shape to its leaf.)
I am not sure why I didn’t search out those greens earlier in life, as I was never much of a fan of iceberg lettuce. I figured it must have that name because it tasted so watery. “They” say the name comes from the mountains of crushed ice they transported it in when it became popular in the 1920’s.
So, how, you may ask, did we get to where we are? I think we can pat ourselves and our free-thinking parents on the back, allowing adventure and curiosity to take over from routine and familiarity. (Don’t get me wrong – a good dose of familiarity once and again helps one keep their sanity!)
Thinking that salad was a lettuce that had little personality, served with a dressing that sometimes had too much was one of the things that held North American society back. No offense to Kraft intended – I ate Catalina dressing and other similar concoctions as a kid – but they were akin to thinking that watching a movie on one of those portable players is the same as being in a theatre. Embracing new ideas and creative quirks has brought us into a new age, where we can hold our heads high and say we know the difference between spinach and arugula!
Just think – today, salad doesn’t even have to include lettuce. I have had watermelon, cucumber and radish salad that was a far more exciting tribute to crisp, crunchy, clean tastes than an iceberg lettuce. Mexican bean salads and Thai noodle salads transport you clear across the world. Adding candied nuts to a simple green salad really takes it uptown, and adding tamari-roasted sunflower or pumpkin seeds lets me think of what it must have been like to be a hippie… if I keep going, we would never get to the rest of dinner!
I leave you this week with a recipe I found that resurrects one of those dressings that was often horrid, but here is elevated to a level where it has almost become the salad itself. The suggestion was to serve it with iceberg lettuce, but I will leave you to choose your own canvas to paint on.
THOUSAND ISLAND DRESSING
There is a debate on whether this recipe originates in Canada (the Thousand Islands are in the St. Lawrence River), or in the USA, where a chef in Chicago is said to have first whipped it up. Some say it is named to represent the thousand little chopped up pieces. This homemade version is certainly a far cry from the mass-produced condiment that has now become “special sauce” for many a fast-food chain.
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 2 tbsp chili sauce
- 1 tbsp finely chopped white onions
- 1 tbsp finely chopped dill pickle
- 1 tbsp finely chopped cooked beets
- 1 tbsp finely chopped hard-cooked egg
- 1 tbsp finely chopped chives
- 1 tbsp finely chopped pimientos
- 1 tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
- ½ tsp Worchestershire sauce
- Salt, pepper to taste
Mix gently with a rubber spatula and serve over lettuce.
P.S. Chef Martin says hi, but he is busy BBQ competition in Langley this week (he insists there is no “r” in his kind of BBQ; “ba-bi-cue”) If you want to sample his BBQ fare this summer, check out the Party in the Park at Okanagan Falls.