For our annual “Go Green” issue, Chef Ken talks about the ultimate green food with tips to take salads from boring to blissful.
What comes to mind when you think of a salad?
Some consider salad a “diet” food. How common is it to order a salad instead of a burger when you go out to eat since it’s perceived as a healthier choice or lower-calorie option? And, as we all know, so many salads that started with calorie-free vegetables aren’t at all healthy by the time you mix it with dressing, cheese, croutons, etc.
Outside of being a replacement for a main course, a salad is typically a first course. It’s the introduction to a balanced meal. The salad course is what kicks your palette into gear and gets you ready for the epicurean adventure to come. Sadly, though, so many salads are uninspired. How many times do you think you’ve sat down to a plate of iceberg lettuce, a few julienned carrots, and a thin, watery dressing?
I’ve had a lot boring salads. While we’ll leave the gender stereotypes out of it, it may be partly because I’m a man that I just never thought of a salad as anything to get excited about. Men are not typically brought up to love salads. So even with my culinary background, chopped greens on a plate soaked in ranch was what usually initially came to mind when I thought of a salad.
My Salad Conversion
When I meet my clients for the first time, I start by asking them what their favorite meal is. Usually, I’ll be told about a decadent pasta dish or a steak that was seasoned and cooked to perfection. I get a lot of people tell me about some phenomenal dish they had at a celebrities’ New York City or Los Angeles restaurants or locally from one of Jean-Robert deCavel’s or Jeff Ruby’s fine dining establishments.
But there was one time that I asked my client what her favorite meal was, and she replied, “It was this salad…”
I listened intently, hoping to develop a custom menu for the upcoming party based on things she loved about the salad. She went on to describe the fresh-caught New England lobster seasoned with salt, pepper and lime juice, rolled inside slices of honeydew melon and topped with hearts of palm, cubes of grapefruit, and avocado. It wasn’t so much the individual ingredients that made it special, but how they all blended together so perfectly like a symphony. She also mentioned that no matter how many times she had ordered it before, her husband would read over the bill and exclaim, “Twenty-six dollars for a salad?!” to which she replied confidently, “That salad is worth every cent.”
How that client described the best meal she ever ate got to thinking more about salads, and how they really get a bad rap. While it’s just the starter course, the salad set the tone for the whole meal. So I wondered, what is it that elevates a salad? What makes a salad so extraordinary that you’re talking about it years later?
I couldn’t think of one that stood out, so I asked my wife about her favorite salad. She showed me a photo she took of a lobster salad that she had ordered at Matunuck Oyster Bar in Rhode Island where we own a second home. We have had some fantastic meals there, which I think is due to its proximity to the water. Because of the plentiful wild-caught seafood that chefs have to work with, they are careful to source produce locally so their lobster, crab, and oyster dishes are accompanied on the plate by the best vegetables available. Together, that makes a huge difference in turning a plain old seafood salad into a spectacular dish worthy of remembering.
Elevating Your Salad
When you’re making a salad at home and want it to be truly memorable, put the time and effort into it by using these tips:1. Go to a farmer’s market or purchase vegetables directly from a family farm. 2. When you do your shopping, get out of the romaine/iceberg rut. Look for greens with different textures and flavors like spinach, arugula, or dandelion leaves and mix them together. 3. No matter what meat you use, it should be just as fresh as the vegetables, so consider whether you are buying meat and seafood that’s humanely raised, antibiotic-free, and sustainable. 4. Think beyond meat. Proteins like eggs, nuts, and quinoa are great in salads.5. Use fresh herbs and mix your own salad dressing instead of buying it in a bottle, and dress your salad before you plate it.
Whether you’re eating it as your only course or as the start of a multi-course meal, your salad should be special! If you’d like more tips and tricks on salads, follow me and send a message on Instagram.