It’s Time For More Salad Days

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So, here we are again! Just for the fun of it, dear readers, go back to your last issue of HORTICULTURE to pick up the reference to Cleopatra and her all-important share in this yam—about salads and salad making!

Salad DaysPin

Garlic and Olive Oil

This last half of the story, in a sense, deals with a modem “Cleo,” — and beauteous she was, and is — and if I may say so, “her salad days” are ahead of her and not behind her!

To satisfy curiosity regarding this salad-loving siren quickly, let me say that she and I found each other while sunning ourselves— modestly or otherwise— on the Lido deck of a very well-appointed modem cruise ship in mid-Caribbean.

It was about quarter to noon when I officially opened my eyes behind my dark glasses to more carefully appraise what, unofficially, I had been viewing, in a fatherly way, for provokingly-few previous minutes.

The sky was blue; the sea was blue; the sun was hot; the air was redolent with various, and many kinds of sunburn lotion, and everywhere about were the recumbent forms of scantily clad cruisers.

Cleo’s eye caught mine, or mine caught hers, and we both started to laugh as we watched a very dark and twisted femme generously anoint herself with a sunburn lotion that was the nearest thing to garlic and olive oil — so help me, Hannah! 

It is little things like this that draw people together at the odd moment; in no time at all, I learned that her better half was involved in playing off a deck tennis tournament, and I put her mind at rest about my peerless consort by saying — that somewhere in a shady comer of another deck she was buried in “Kon-Tiki,” and that not until one o’clock were we slated to join up for buffet lunch on deck in Lido, deck costume.

Salads On Deck

The mere mention of buffet luncheon on deck set Cleo off in a disparaging evaluation of the ship’s salads and what she had tried in vain to accomplish with the chief steward in bringing about improvements. At the moment, the sun was directly over the yard arm.

With my appetite whetted for a simple salad — if such was possible to get on board — I had a brainstorm and suggested that we might happily seek shade under a deck umbrella and at least discuss good salads while indulging in one or more Planter’s Punches — if for no other good reason than to while away those brief little sixty minutes between noon and one of the clock!! 

Everything clicked; the deck steward did a masterful job on the Planter’s Punches, Cleo’s charms (and indeed they were many) dragged several extremely intelligent and well-traveled males away from other sirens of less interest than herself; by a quarter to one, and she had sparked as brilliant a round-table discussion of international salad making as one could possibly imagine. 

For the benefit of all you readers who have so patiently waded through this sundrenched preface, I now give you the findings — or at least some — of this amazing group of salad hounds.

Basic French Dressing

Basic French Dressing By unanimous consent, basic French dressing is just one, and only one, a simple combination of the best olive oil, fine wine vinegar, salt, and freshly ground pepper.

It is impossible to go wrong if these ingredients are remembered and used in the proper proportions; the ratio is a half teaspoon of salt, with hand-mill, freshly ground pepper to taste, to which a tablespoon of red wine vinegar and three tablespoons of impeccable olive oil.

This simple and basic blend dates back to an old Spanish proverb that says: there should be a miser for the vinegar, a spendthrift for the oil, a philosopher for the salt, and a madcap to stir up the ingredients and mix them well. 

Accessories to this basic recipe are legion; every nation has its way of preparing salads to suit the tastes of its people and using herbs and other flavorings indigenous to its climate. 

During our round-table discussion, several other salad dressing ingredients were vehemently called “indispensable.”

At this point, it is reasonable to mention the more important and most often-used accessories to basic French dressing. Thus, a complete overall understanding of salad dressings for special purposes will be clear in the minds of those readers who are now seeking more knowledge on the subject.

Onion Flavoring

Many people believe that a perfectly balanced salad dressing can only be made with the introduction of onion flavoring in some form. 

I agree, and although many lean towards garlic, I much prefer the flavor of a mild onion, a shallot, or finely chopped chives, since any of these are far more delicate and subtle.

Admittedly the point is controversial, but garlic in certain fine cooking is far more important than it is in fine salad making — at least, I think so. 

Concerning definitive or sharpening flavors, white peppers, hot red peppers, paprika, English mustard, and at times horseradish, and even a soupcon of curry powder are accredited adjuncts, and Worcestershire sauce—always in moderation—has its place. 

Egg yolks—hard-boiled or raw — and sour cream are valuable additions to certain types of salad dressing as “texturizing” mediums.

Anchovies, cheeses of various sorts, and capers are also permissible accessories if used with discretion and a knowledge of just what results are to be attained. 

To end this subject of special flavorings, mention must indeed be made of certain herbs, which either in dry form or freshly picked from the garden, represent exceedingly-important factors in many notable dressings.

Tarragon, parsley, chervil, and basil are perhaps enough to mention as salad herbs of importance.

Iceberg Lettuce

Just as the deck steward had completed serving the second round of Planter’s Punches, Cleo focused her bright and persuasive brown eyes on me and, point blank, asked if I would officiate at a great salad-making round-up of sea-going -gourmets in the dining saloon — provided she was successful in getting the proper ingredients together, in and around a suitable salad bowl.

The round table, by now, had seven enthusiasts at it; one was a true globetrotter who swore he had been served California-grown iceberg lettuce while on a flight from Cairo to Bombay.

This brought forth the comment that Salinas-grown iceberg lettuce (Salinas, California has been aptly called “the salad bowl of the world.”) was undoubtedly the only truly crisp or near-crisp, green salad item available on board.

Hence the idea was finally and most wisely dropped in favor of a later-in-life get-together at some then-unidentified point — all of which was truly characteristic of just such squall-like enthusiasm engendered by the consumption of tall, thirst-slaking, Planter’s Punches in pairs, under a hot sun somewhere in the Caribbean!

The caucus cheerily broke up after “Tiny,” the truly Lilliputian apprentice steward, passed by with the chiming luncheon going into action. In answer to the direct question of how I made salad dressing at home, I replied as follows:

Making the Dressing “Take a small low-sided bowl or a soup plate, and put half a teaspoon of Coleman’s dry mustard. Add equal salt, two or three shakes or grinds of black pepper, and some Paprika. Paprika adds a mild and pleasant flavor and color and is recommended. To this, add a thin slice of onion or half a shallot.

Mince or chop these to get the maximum flavor out of them; then moisten these items with a few drops of Worcestershire sauce and a few drops of red wine vinegar.

With a fork, mash the onion or shallot into the dry ingredients until a paste has been formed, and then add two carefully measured and not overflowing tablespoons of the best red wine vinegar; when this has been well stirred — and while you are still stirring — slowly, add six tablespoons of fine olive oil.

The resulting dressing will be sufficient for one very large party bowl of salad or two family salads on successive nights. Making up large quantities of French dressing ahead of time is a step backward in the art of true salad making. Somehow a certain freshness or zest is last.

The one-round-at-a-time mixer of genuinely “clean, dry martinis” will more than subscribe to this theory! Incidentally, the first time you mix salad dressing according to this recipe, you will not necessarily make the best dressing of your life. 

A little trial and error experience with your kind of oil and vinegar will prove many things as you advance into the upper realms of salad making.

44659 by Harold S. Ross