Archive for September, 2009

Close the door, I’m dressing!

Saturday, September 19th, 2009

That’s what the mayonnaise said to the refrigerator—or so we cracked ourselves up repeating in the early 1960s.  But I was always a bit confused by the notion of mayonnaise as dressing.  In my mind, mayonnaise (hopefully, Hellman’s—and, please, not Miracle Whip!) was something that either held together the tuna fish chunks in my sandwich or was spread liberally on a BLT.  Yet, today it’s widely used as a salad dressing in certain eastern European countries.  As for the mayonnaise/dressing  joke—it’s still making the rounds.

The good news about lettuce and other salad greens is that they have  virtually no calories; the bad news is that they have virtually no taste.  That’s where their trusty companions, salad dressings, come in.  And, in addition to all the choices of salad greens, we now have a number of options to pour on them.

I don’t know exactly when we transitioned from the basic salad dressings of the 1960s to the current array.  My treasured and classic Betty Crocker cookbook, circa 1970, contains straightforward recipes for French, Italian, blue cheese, and Green Goddess dressings.[*]

Oil and VinegarThe dressing options are very different in Europe—or at least in Italy.  When we arrived at the train station in Milan almost two years ago, we hungrily headed to the nearest restaurant for lunch.  I was delighted to be able to pick out an insalata on the menu.  But when it arrived on our table, there was no dressing.  After listening to my feeble attempts in Italian, the waiter disappeared into the kitchen and emerged with two vials of liquid—one was olive oil and the other, wine vinegar.  And throughout the rest of our trip, that is all we ever got to splash on our salad greens.  The surprise was on us:  they were deliziosa.  Who knew?

Yours till the lattuga leaves,

NJL

[*]Referred to by Ms. Crocker as a “glamour dressing,” Green Goddess was created as a tribute to an English actor, George Arliss (1868-1946), who was appearing in San Francisco in a stage play entitled “The Green Goddess.” Its main ingredients generally include mayonnaise, sour cream and anchovies.

Not Just Berries

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

When most people think of geniuses, names like Albert Einstein and Bill Gates come to mind. For me, it’s Rich Melman, the founder and king of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises.  It’s because of moments like this, when I log in and see the latest newsletter from Wildfire, one of the dozens (hundreds?) of restaurants created and operated so successfully by Melman et al.  Admittedly, I read the newsletter mainly to see if there are any discount coupons.  But what I find instead are the words “Try Wildfire’s Triple Berry Pie,” accompanied by a picture of fruit salad.  OK, several fruits mixed with a little extra sugar, cornstarch, etc. and baked in a  pie shell.  Presented as a perfect one-sixth of a pie, sitting proudly next to a mini-sphere of luscious-looking vanilla ice cream.  PieI also learn that the pie is “bursting with intense berry flavors,” and that the whole pie will be available for purchase now through September for “just $19.95.”  LEYE has packed it with “the sweetest raspberries, strawberries and blackberries.”  The sweetest!

I know this is a green-salad blog.  But here’s why this entry is not a real digression.  I could go to Wildfire for lunch today and order their scrumptious chopped salad.  Maybe ask  my server to go easy on the tangy citrus lime vinaigrette dressing; and then maybe ask him/her to leave off an item or two (avocado, bacon, blue cheese? That still leaves the lettuce, roasted chicken, tomatoes, scallions and tortilla chips.).  Then I could, guilt-free, savor that one-sixth piece of fabulous triple berry pie.  If I could split it with a friend, I’m down to a paltry one-twelfth.

I don’t have time for that today, as I’m off to visit my dad.  But wait:  I will practically pass the Glenview Wildfire on my way home.  Maybe I could pick up a whole pie, and then, you know, eat the tiniest of slivers and freeze the rest?  If it weren’t for the fact that my 40th high school reunion is in four days and that I’m planning to wear a barely-fits dress, I would definitely do it.  After all, it’s just $19.95.

Wishing the berry best,

NJL

Field of Greens

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009
World's Largest Salad

At 22,500 pounds, the world's largest salad

If you Google the term “salad” today, you will get over 46,000,000 results.  Among them, the ever-dependable Wikipedia offers a virtual salad bar of information about this food genre.  For instance, the word “salad” comes from the French salade, based on the Latin salata, meaning “salty.”  This is because vegetables seasoned with salty sea water (brine) were popular in ancient Rome.  Yum.  Wikipedia also notes the distinction between salad, generally—which includes mixtures of pasta, vegetables, legumes, fruits, grain, etc.—and the green or garden salad, which is most often composed of “leafy vegetables.”

Of those leafy vegetables, lettuce rules.  Tales of these leaves go back to the Ancient Greeks, who believed that they contained sleep-inducing properties, and often presented plates of lettuce at the end of a meal.  Then there was the Emperor Domitian (81‑96AD) who allegedly served lettuce at the beginning of his feasts so that he could torture his guests by forcing them to stay awake in his presence.  The Emperor sounds like a really fun guy.

In the 21st century, we have more benign uses for lettuce.  And unlike in the 1960s,  iceberg is not the only leaf in town.   Most mainstream supermarkets offer many of these varieties:  Boston, Bibb, iceberg, looseleaf (oak, red and green leaf) and romaine.  Generally, the darker the green of the leaf, the more vitamins and minerals it contains.  Sorry about that, iceberg.

The traditional green salad may also be made with non-lettuce greens, which tend to have more distinctive flavors than lettuce.  Examples are watercress, endive, escarole and radicchio (with those bright  purple leaves).  “Mesclun” is a mixture of what are known as “young salad greens.”  There’s also the increasingly popular (fresh) spinach.  And, at an upscale Chicago restaurant for dinner last year, I saw  “rocket salad” on the menu and learned that this is another name for arugula. (That particular salad, by the way, was definitely not “out of this world.”)

Here’s a sign of our gastronomic times:  McDonald’s advertises that its salads “feature up to 16 types of premium greens.”  Of course, this also means that a McDonald’s salad could contain just one and that one could be iceberg.  Nonetheless, even Kermit would have to agree that, these days,  it’s clearly gotten easier to be green.

Yours till the lettuce leaves,

NJL