Foodie Tuesday: Monster Salads

Photo: Awesome Autumn Salad

I call it Awesome Autumn Salad, not only because it’s impressively tasty but also given the stupendous quantity of it I’m capable of consuming when in the mood.

Fear not! I neither dine with nor on monsters if I can help it. But I will happily prepare and feast on a salad that’s big enough for any monster since I am willfully delusional about salads being lower-calorie options than most other sorts of meals. You will see from my photos and comments that this is clearly a lie: I love to add cheese, nuts, eggs, bacon, leftover casserole hunks, and endless other ingredients that give salads just as much artery-busting potential as any other dish. And don’t get me started ranting about how if a salad dressing’s supposed to be worthy of my salad, it might as well be worth eating (or drinking) on its own, since I will likely use enough of it to make it an actual menu item too.

Given all the disclaimers, you might think I mistook the very concept of Salad for another thing entirely, and perhaps you are right, if we’re going to be all strict about it. But that’s just the point, for me. I like to think of salad as the perfect opportunity for improvisation and combining as many of my favorite edibles in one dish as I like. And if you think I also mistook pulling up a chair to write a post on the blog for walking into a confessional, then you clearly haven’t read around here much before, because that’s no mistake, it’s just the way I always operate.

Enough asides. To food! Salad, or an approximation thereof, to be specific.

The Awesome Autumn Salad above is, like most around our house, Romaine-based. Typically, I like to add an assortment from the following: chopped celery and cucumbers, shredded carrots, sliced yellow or red capsicums, sliced black olives, raw or lightly cooked sweet corn kernels, chopped sugar snap peas, salted sunflower seeds, sprouted pumpkin seeds, and sometimes a bit of chopped boiled egg or grated cheddar cheese. The dressing is really what makes this one for me. It’s a combination of thick, sweet balsamic vinegar and Styrian toasted pumpkinseed oil. Sheer heaven! I usually blend mine with thyme, dill, mustard seeds, and coarsely ground black pepper. I’ll throw a big pinch of Maldon sea salt over the salad and toss it all lightly before eating, and I can put away an astonishing amount of this crunchy madness when I’m good and hungry for it.

Photo: Bit-Part Salad

This one gets the moniker Bit-Part Salad; greens play only a supporting role in it, and there are bits and pieces of innumerable other goodies piled on it.

While I am worlds away from believing that to be a salad, a dish must have fresh greens in it, I do like the leafy sort. Especially when it’s piled to the skies with all manner of crunchy and flavorful goodness in the range of added ingredients. And particularly-specifically-especially when it contains a refreshing element of contrast.

The Bit-Part Salad here was a room-temperature conglomeration of grainy goodness with veg, fruit, cheeses, nuts, and more. I broth-cooked wild rice in some of my slow cooker broth, the latter made with both marrow bones and chicken wings as a winning combo that came together incredibly richly. And made a monstrous mess of the cooker, the counter, the floor, and my nerves in the process, all during only the second time I used that brand new cooker. Perhaps there was a monster in the kitchen after all. No matter. I made the wild rice, then steamed a batch of quinoa with lemon and orange zests, cinnamon and cardamom and roasted coriander, and then I combined the two with beurre noisette, in case they weren’t already ridiculously tasty. Instead of mashing every other ingredient to an unrecognizable pulp or plating everything together tediously for every eater, I opted for my preferred mise-en-place mode of putting out a counter-full of ingredients and letting each person customize his or her salad.

My Bit-Part Salad was thus: a bed of lettuce and wild rice-quinoa mix. Heaps on top of it. Chopped Bosc pear marinated in elderflower syrup and cardamom; suprêmes of blood orange; pomegranate arils. Toasted walnuts and piñons. Celery, snap peas, cucumber, and a squeeze of lime juice. Minced fresh mint and basil. Grated Reggiano and myzithra cheeses. Coarsely ground black pepper and salt. Triple orange dressing. Enough bits of surprise and pleasure to keep even me guessing, each bite having a different little confluence of flavors and textures and perfumes.

This, perhaps, is the defining character I love most in a salad: that it should offer the ideal counterpoint to the other parts of the meal, or—if it is itself the whole meal—that the salad should be filled with delightful contrasts. Opposites in texture, yes…crumbly, soft, crackling and crisp or smooth or juicy. Contrasting flavor types, from at least a couple of the Five Tastes if not more. I will draw the line at combining things that seem to compete with each other. If one element is overpowering all the others then I’d just say Serve it by itself, let it shine, and don’t waste any other good stuff! If the salad has a noticeable leaning in style or ethnicity, save the alien invasions for another dish, another meal.

I’ve posted about salads plenty of times before and listed for you a number of my preferred inclusions, so this is perhaps only an update. If I say I’m boiling it down to a few choice currencies, fear not; I will undoubtedly be happy to throw actual boiled ingredients in with any others, as well as blanched, fried, steamed, toasted, or smoked ones. But it’s hard to beat the beauty of starting with a lovely heap of raw, fresh vegetables and/or fruits and never a bad idea to do that whether there are add-ins, throw-ons, and other edible accessories and decorations or not.

Photo: Flash-fried Salad

Or keep it super-simple…flash-fried fresh spinach and basil leaves, topped with a bit of Shichi-mi tōgarashi or plain toasted sesame seeds—or nothing.

26 thoughts on “Foodie Tuesday: Monster Salads

  1. Always good to see your name pop up in my email notifications. I also love salad as a base for “just about anything you can find in the kitchen” type combinations. I’m especially appreciative of combining different textures, such as lightly crisped tortilla strips (seasoned with lime and chili and a deeply robust paprika), tossed with colorful dried cranberries, deliciously tart and tangy orange sections, peppery radishes, crunchy walnuts or almonds, and perhaps the remnants of a chicken fajita taco, or maybe the remainder of that cold cut sub sandwich, with the shredded bits of lettuce and chunks of tomatoes and peppers included. Topped with a rosemary and pomegranate vinegar, and plenty of fresh cracked pepper. And sometimes, a sprinkling of queso fresco, or perhaps I’ll toss in a handful of crunchy granola cereal with raisins. Salads in my home lean heavily in the direction of “could be just about anything” mixed with a mixture of greens, usually consisting of various types of lettuce and always baby spinach in generous doses.

    Now, of course, since you’ve tempted me with your gorgeous photos of several takes on “ensalada con abundancia”, I’ll be craving the crunchy sweet tart goodness of a salad until my craving is satisfied. Special thanks for introducing me to the added ingredient of buerre noisette (which seems to be ridiculously easy to prepare, and could easily be flavored with all sorts of spices or earthy mushrooms, for example). Yep, I will definitely have to have some sort of crunchy deliciousness soon. Always good to hear from you, and hope you are well. 🙂

    • Such a wonderful brightener to get a message from you, my friend!!

      Yes, I’m doing just fine—simply staying immersed in book production-related stuff enough that it doesn’t make much blog time for the last year. For many of us ‘out here’ who aren’t doing blogs professionally, I suspect the same is true: the blog tends to lag and languish when life is full and good on other fronts and keeping our attentions elsewhere. I hope the same’s true for you!

      Your Variations on a Salad do sound like we share an entirely eclectic ethos. Of course, I suspect you’re like me in that this approach is across the board and not at all limited to salad-making. 😉 Or even to cookery! 😉 😉

      Be well, be happy, and I send you big hugs!
      Kathryn

    • Dig in, then, and we’ll ‘picnic’ on them together in spirit. 😀

      I think late-winter salad cravings are partly a relic of my PNW life, when I thought of salads as a sort of precursor to the early bulbs sprouting in the garden and other signs of spring. Here in our part of TX, there’s not much in the way of actual seasons, unless they’re effectively mere days long apiece! Recently we’ve had as much as 30ºF difference within 36 hours, yet when summer weather, or what I’d classify as it—say, 85º+F—kicks in for real it tends to just stay well above that for months and months on end, and nothing short of ice cream and cocktails on the rocks suffices for coolness. So I do rather relish the time when a salad feels light and refreshing enough to pass for seasonal food!

      xo

  2. Can’t beat a good hearty salad, even in winter. Here in Kenya there is exactly one lettuce in the sores – iceberg. Take it or leave it and the only herb I have found is coriander. Yay for coriander being my favourite herb. Will have to get adventurous with salad dressings to spice things up.
    Have a beautiful day darling Kath.
    Love from Nairobi.
    🙂 Mandy xo

    • That surprises me a bit, the narrow choice of greens. If the climate is even remotely like that in Texas, I can understand it being less common to grow a whole number of tender vegetables, but I guess I’d assume that at least the vast European influences over the generations in much of Africa would have brought a desire to cultivate a fair number of things that felt familiar, but were perhaps more capable of surviving in the different terrain and weather. I happen to love iceberg lettuce and coriander (or cilantro, as it’s often called here closer to Mexico) both very much, but might find myself hunting for other varieties of greeny goodness just to change things up from time to time. Or maybe my inherent laziness would win out and I’d just fix the same salad every time I made one!

      So glad you’re getting some time with Pete. Hope you’re both having a grand time in Kenya and you’re storing up lots of new adventures and interests to keep in your memory treasure-chest—

      Much love!
      Kathryn

      • I hope if I ventured to the more expensive stores there would be more variety available Kath.
        Having a beautiful time with my Pete and was hoping to put a little post together about our weekend at Diani Beach. Have a beautiful day. xoxoxo

        • I’ll look forward to seeing the post whenever you get to it—but don’t waste any beach time, let alone *Pete time*, on blogging! 😉 Happy days to you, too, my sweet! xo

  3. That was one dish I missed during my dental saga: a hearty everything-but-the-kitchen-sink salad. They were just too much crunching for the fragile dental work. Now, however, I have no such worries and salads are a big part of my diet again. Of course, there are no nuts. Sorry, but they’re just a bridge too far, at this point. (Every pun intended.)

    • (((Snorts with laughter)))

      I do feel your pain. Not directly, as I’m blessed with ridiculously perfect teeth, even now when I’m so long in the tooth! But Richard just had a wisdom tooth yanked, and we were both reminded of just how fun *that* is and how long it takes to feel hungry for the dangers of salads. He’s pretty nearly healed now, so I expect that when we get back in the groove after this upcoming crazy schedule where we hardly know when we’ll get a meal break, let alone what we can keep fresh or have time to fix and eat, we’ll both be happy to get back to salad dinners. Meanwhile, just the sight of your inimitable smile makes me (surprise!) think hungry pasta-thoughts! 😉

      Glad you’re returned to your Salad Days!
      xo,
      K

      • For years an Austin dentist has been running a television commercial in which she advertises her office as having “a warm and fun environment.” Earth to dentist: do you read me? No patient thinks of a dental office as a place to go and have fun.

        • Since I do have perfect teeth (as do my sisters), we are generally the rare outliers to that dental aversion. While having my teeth cleaned and checked is hardly a top form of entertainment, it doesn’t hurt to be treated like a rock star and have the dentist and hygienists coo over me and post pictures of my smile for other patients to admire! Weird, but amusing. (Oh—that’s my middle name. Never mind.) 😉

    • I try not to be terribly fussy about limiting my vegetable intake to strictly seasonal stuff, since veggies are one of the few indulgences I get unreasonable cravings for that are actually *good* for me! 😉

  4. These salads look fabulous and like you I make enormous ones, filled with all sorts of good stuff and then kid myself that it’s low cal!:) But oh my goodness they are so good. Thank you for this inspirational post….as in I will try to copy what you have created here 🙂 xxx

    • 😀 I went a little bit smaller tonight, but enjoyed it all the same. Especially liked the riff (speaking of “low cal” fantasies) on my dressing today, which I made from fried basil leaves with mandarin juice, sugar, salt, and pumpkinseed oil. 😀
      xoxoxo!
      K

        • Delighted to hear from you, my sweet! I assume that the Portuguese sojourn was enriching in more than just culinary ways as always, and will look forward to the loveliness that ensues on your blog soon enough. I’m still terribly sporadic in my appearances here, but will continue to pop in when I can.
          Welcome home!
          xoxo,
          Kathryn

        • Good morning dear Kathryn….oh yes, it was so enriching…a fantastic group and as ever the School and Town are so perfect a place to immerse oneself into the creative process…..Next year I will go in April and September with limited numbers of 12 per group. Also this year I got to spend time there on my own painting and writing, which was lovely – something I look forward to doing much more of. Hoping all is well with you and that you continue to create beautiful art, writing and of course culinary delights. Sending love. Janet xxx

  5. Oh my, those are fantastic looking salads. I say that as I sit here regretting my decision to have grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato basil bisque for lunch. Sometimes I simply forget I’m lactose intolerant. Duh…So I look about 6 months pregnant at the moment and feel the same. yuck
    Back to salads. Usually when I’m using my head I make monster salads or monster smoothies with greens galore and half the pantry. I don’t recognize quite a few of the ingredients you mentioned so I’ll have to check them out. I for the past year or so in an effort to lower my lipid levels, I’ve added chia and hemp seeds and gogi berries to the mix. I love that you tossed in some casserole as I do the same with leftover rice or green beans or whatever. Yum. I like your blog. Will go attempt to follow. Enjoy your salads.

    • Oh boy, do I know what you mean by the post-grilled-cheese middle Humph. Though pretty much everything other than (naked) vegetables seems to have that effect on me as I’m slouching off toward 60! My spouse and I spent some quality time this afternoon taking 2 walks that we spent almost entirely on strategizing how we can convince ourselves to eat more sensibly since our love of all things not-necessarily-healthful accompanies and often overpowers our mutual love of a good salad. Arrrrgh.

      I’ve become, for example, quite addicted to chia seeds, but particularly soaked in fruit juice and often with a lagniappe of heavy cream, whipped or not. So the good of the chia is obviously pretty much negated by the accompanying naughtiness. Such is my wildly corruptible self!

      Thanks for coming by here. I’ve already seen that yours is a blog where I will hugely (no pun intended) enjoy wandering around as time permits!

      Cheers,
      Kathryn

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