The green salad is much beloved. It’s on just about every menu just anywhere. It affords the largest stretch of creativity, jumbling lots of ingredients into one big bowl and tossing with any number of dressings. It’s the easiest dish to prepare and at the same time, the most difficult. A good salad requires a bit of finesse because you are balancing acid, fat, and salt amidst cold greens. It can be spectacular delivering a big punch, a cleansing of the palate, and satisfying refreshment. In all of my circles of friends throughout the years, I am most known for my salads, but I don’t present them here very often, because on the surface they seem overdone in recipe world and ordinary. And, no matter how much my salad could win best in show, it’s really the TASTE that makes the difference.
This is the salad we are having on Christmas Eve. I know it’s a winner because I took it to a party last night and it was gone in the first five minutes. It was huge party where everyone brought a dish and I was the only salad. People think salad is not an exciting or appealing dish to bring to a party, but I disagree. A gorgeous, delicious salad that is dressed in a bright vinaigrette is probably more welcome than one more Christmas cookie.
Of all the things I could possibly bring to a dinner or to a party, I most enjoy bringing the salad. I know how to make people happy to eat greens and make it almost feel like dessert.
Many home cooks can beat me out on pastry or sauces, but not salads. It’s my territory and for a few reasons:
• I love salads, I need salads.
• I understand vinegar and the myth of balsamic.
• I understand salt and the demise of Morton’s.
• I most often pair some kind of fruit and cheese into my salad (what’s better than that?)
• I am not afraid of fat (bring on the oil, cheese, nuts, prosciutto).
About Salad Greens
If you have fallen into the spring greens trap, or the delicate mixed greens trap that you find in a bag at the grocery or in a big bin at $8 a pound, perhaps it’s time to give an old lettuce a new try. Romaine is a great lettuce for wintery ingredients and happens to be packed full of nutrients. When I think of winter salads, I think of adding cheese, nuts, and fruits such as pear, apple, orange and pomegranate. Romaine holds up underneath these ingredients quite well.
The crispy prosciutto, winter pears, and pomegranate, bring the salt, the sweet, and the tart. I chose a ricotta salata, not to be confused with ricotta cheese. It’s sheep’s milk cheese that crumbles like a feta or slices and is milky, mild, and salty.
Instead of cheese, try white chocolate. This salad would be perfect with a shaving of white chocolate. I did that here and it was delicious and quite the surprise. You don’t need a lot, and you still want to add your salt and pepper. It’s still not a dessert although I often prefer my salad at the end of a meal.
The Salad Dressing
This is the hardest thing to teach with words. All greens are different. You will grab different amounts on different days, and the ingredients change things also. You need to taste! You need to get an idea of what a good salad should taste like. Just tasting the dressing doesn’t necessarily mean anything either because the taste can only really be tested on the salad you are eating. Now that’s unfair of me to say this, isn’t it? I should be able to give you a perfectly measured out recipe for a dressing, and I probably could do that. But, that is not how I make my salads. So I will give you some guidelines and invite you to play with your dressing, while abiding by a few of my own food rules.
Fat and Acid: A good salad tastes good by the right mix of fat and salad. I never drench my salad with oil, but I toss each leaf to glistening. If I”m adding cheeses, nuts, fruits, etc., I toss my greens first and get the flavors right. I prefer to toss with oil first, vinegar or lemon second, and then add in my ingredients and toss again. Many balsamic vinegars are not true to the process and should not be used for anything except perhaps a reduction in a sauce. If you taste, and you pucker, don’t use on your salad. There are some moderately priced, aged balsamics that are worthy. There are also some very expensive balsamics that can cost up to $100. These are used for special occasions, so think of balsamic that will “add” to your flavor profile but not necessarily be the main acid to the dressing. What I’m saying is mix it up. Use your wine vinegar for the zing and add in balsamic for the flavor. In this case, I used a blackberry pear balsamic that was part of the gift bag we received at the food buzz festival. It’s a small bottle and I used a tablespoon just at the end, drizzling it on.
You could mix your dressing together first, but truthfully, I don’t like to waste dressing, and the dressing I make today might not work for the salad I make tomorrow. (There are times, however, I do make a dressing that is emulsified).
Amounts of Ingredients: I have no true measurements here for the pomegranate, cheese or crispy prosciutto. If you look at the picture above, I used about 3 times the amount of romaine as remaining ingredients you see. I hope that helps.
Recipe for Holiday Salad of Romaine, Pear and Pomegranate
- 20-25 romaine lettuce leaves (about 3 heads)
- 1 cup of pomegranate seeds
- 4 slices prosciutto de parma crisped in oven (can sub with bacon)
- 1 pear, sliced in quarters and then again in thin slices
- 2 oz ricotta salata shaved over salad
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Balsamic Vinegar (something sweet) I used ……blackberry with pear
- Rose wine vinegar (or good quality red wine vinegar)
- Grey sea salt or sea salt
- Freshly ground cracked pepper
Rip lettuce leaves into large bite size pieces. Toss with olive oil, enough to glisten each leaf. Less is more. You can add more later, but you can’t retract oil. Toss with red wine vinegar, just enough to taste the brightness. Add in 3/4 of each of the rest of the ingredients. Toss. Taste again. Add salt and pepper to season. Garnish with remaining ingredients. Drizzle balsamic over dressing (about 1 Tablespoon) just before serving.
Note: Taste and taste again. Be your own judge. You want to taste, sweet, salty, tart and richness. It shouldn’t bee too salty, too sweet, or too tart, but work together to feel refreshing and satisfying. You may need to douse a bit more red wine vinegar on at the end.
Option: Instead of cheese, try a shaving of white chocolate. I know this sounds unusual. It is, but it is also so festive and wonderful, and really pairs well with the fruit and the blackberry balsamic vinegar.
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