Now you do. Me. Yep, I have cravings for lettuce. I kid you not. I like it so much, I’m happy to eat a hunk of head lettuce, or a pile of romaine leaves with no dressing. Nothing on it at all. I can just snack on it, as it is. Au natural.
Yes. I know. I am strange.
Several years ago we had a very severe black-out in Toronto. It lasted a couple of days. Most people were lining up at gas stations to make sure their cars had a full tank. And they were also heading for bank machines, getting cash before there was none left.
Not me. I was on the hunt for a different kind of ‘green’. Lettuce. I’m serious. I went to the grocery store to stock up on romaine.
Used to be, iceberg was the popular choice. In fact, it was probably the only choice for a time. But now salad lovers have a myriad of choices. There’s head lettuce, loose-leaf lettuce and romaine. Boston, or bibb, as it is sometimes called. Arugula. Mesclun. Mizuna. Lamb’s lettuce. Oak leaf lettuce. Purslane. Chickory. Curly endive. Radicchio. And watercress.
Some varieties are crunchy, some quite tender. Others taste quite sweet, while still others can be quite bold, peppery or bitter. Colours range from the palest of green (almost white), to quite dark, to yellow, to those with tinges of bronze and even red on their outer leaves. Their leaves can be dense, notched, scalloped, frilly and even ruffly. Regardless, lettuce is a good source of vitamin A and potassium. But all varieties must be very, very carefully washed because they can contain bacteria.
Best to soak/rinse it several times. God bless the salad spinner.
One of my favourite salads combines arugula, spinach and radicchio, which I toss together first. Then I add dried cranberries, chilled mandarin oranges (tinned) and slivered almonds. I make my own dressing for it and it’s dead simple. I don’t even measure anything. I just start with a little bit of each of the following ingredients, taste and add as I go along: I whisk together fresh lemon juice, honey, good olive oil, a pinch of salt, pepper and thyme. It is really light, delicious and looks gorgeous in its bowl, on the table.
I make another salad dressing everyone always loves as well: I start with a tin of flat anchovy fillets. I tip the whole tin, including the oil, into a shallow bowl. Then I mash the anchovies with a fork, incorporating them into the oil. I add some finely-chopped garlic, pepper, a little dry mustard, about 1/8 of a teaspoon of sugar (just to take any bitterness away, not to make it sweet), and a drop or two of Tobasco.
Then I whisk all that with good olive oil (not too much, it should look more like a dip than a vinaigrette), and lots of fresh lemon juice. At the very end I add some finely chopped parsley. I have friends who love this dressing so much they use it as a dip, for crudités. Or you can just dip romaine leaves into a bowlful. Or really good bread.
For this dressing, I prefer a combination of just romaine, endive and cherry tomatoes. Occasionally I might add some radicchio for more colour. And once I’ve tossed the salad with the dressing, I add grated parmesan or reggiano-parmesan. It’s my version of a caesar salad, without the egg. And, for my taste buds, far more appealing than the creamy variety you can find ready-made which is, to me, nothing more than mayonnaise with a hint of garlic in it.
My preference, also, is to have my salad after my meal as opposed to having it as an appetizer. I find it helps in the digestion of the meal. Unless, of course, the salad is my meal.
Topped with grilled chicken. Or shrimp. Salmon or halibut. Sliced, leftover steak from the night before. Tuna. Mmmmm. Lovely!