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Salads : California-style Summer Main Dishes

June 05, 1986|BETSY BALSLEY | Times Food Editor

What do you do when 90 food editors from the United States and Canada announce they're planning a visit to your hometown? After facing up to the fact that a retreat to somebody else's hometown is a futile gesture, you do what anybody expecting houseguests does. You start making plans to show off the best of your community. At least that what's local newspaper food editors did when the Newspaper Food Editors and Writers Assn. decided to make Los Angeles the site of this year's annual weeklong conference.

Since the members of the association are all food writers, their interest in California's cuisine put menu planning at the top of the priority list. And since the recently refurbished Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood, with its wonderful rejuvenated early '30s Art Deco decor, was chosen as convention site, it seemed appropriate to begin the conference with a luncheon menu featuring a return to the early '30s when Hollywood was at its most glamorous.

What better way to remind our visitors of the culinary delights that have existed here for many a year? Consensus as to what to serve came quickly. In fact it was a shoo-in. Southern California has long been noted for serving fascinating salads, so nothing could get a dining marathon off to a better start than that old Hollywood favorite, the now defunct Brown Derby's famous Cobb Salad.

The Cobb Salad is a good example of a trendy dish that never loses its appeal, thus becoming a true culinary classic. It's a simple salad with relatively ordinary ingredients. In fact, it is really nothing more than a wonderful amalgamation of finely chopped meats and vegetables tossed with a well-seasoned oil and vinegar dressing. It's the preparation and the presentation that makes it different from any other chef's salad. And that may be why it has remained so popular.

Major Role in Menus

Planning menus for the visiting editors reinforced the awareness of how important salads are to this part of the country. Main dish salads in particular play a major role in our daily menus. Cool, crisp salads make light and lovely meals on evenings when you really don't want to even think about eating.

Or it may be that sturdier salads, something that will satisfy even a ravenous surfer, will have more appeal. Whichever type you choose, summer suppers built around salads can be a boon to a busy cook, particularly since they require little enhancement. Include some interesting breadsticks, fancy crackers or crusty warm bread, perhaps, and for dessert, if one is necessary, nothing could be better than some chilled, first-of-the-season fresh fruit. A cool drink . . . or an aromatic cup of a favorite herb tea . . . will round out a perfect light meal that suits the season.

Be warned, however, that although a salad supper sounds as if it easily can be whipped up at the last minute, some of the better ones do require some preparation time.

The Cobb Salad is a perfect example. Simple as it is, some of the ingredients must be prepared well in advance. The chicken and bacon must be cooked and chilled, the eggs boiled and chilled and the dressing mixed. The greens must be rinsed and dried, and, most time consuming of all, even if you use a food processor, each ingredient should be chopped separately. We suggest you do the preparation work the day before and refrigerate everything in separate plastic bags. Then, getting dinner on the table the next day actually will be a snap.

Marinated Squid Salad

Happily, today's main dish salads are much more than a mere hodgepodge of greens and so-called salad vegetables such as tomatoes and onions. Ingredients that might never have been considered suitable for salads even five years ago are now not only acceptable, but desirable. A trendy seafood mixture based on marinated squid or a chicken salad with Oriental flavorings that were almost impossible to find a few years ago are easily prepared at home. Or a whimsical yearning for out-of-season flavors such as corned beef and cabbage can produce an offbeat salad meal that merits repeating time and again.

And, of course, sometimes unplanned salads are the best. A cursory check of the refrigerator to see if there are some usable leftovers, a quick stop at a nearby produce counter and an adventurous hand in mixing a light--or occasionally not-so-light--dressing will get you off to a good start.

Essentially the only requirement for a successful main dish salad is the willingness to experiment a bit. The accompanying recipes will show how easy it is to combine non-traditional ingredients with many more or less traditional salad ingredients to create some very interesting meals. Give them a try . . . but after that you're on your own.

COBB SALAD

1/2 head iceberg lettuce

1/2 bunch watercress

1 small bunch chicory or curly endive

1/2 head romaine

2 tablespoons minced chives

2 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced

2 chicken breasts, cooked and diced

6 slices bacon, crisply cooked and diced

1 avocado, peeled and diced

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