It was the supporting member of the cast of mealtime dramas. Overshadowed by the evening's splashy star--the entree--and by that automatic crowd pleaser, dessert, the simple salad seemed unlikely ever to get top billing.
But with a new image developed during the last few years, the salad now offers fans more than just a crunch of watery iceberg lettuce and the obligatory store-bought tomatoes, cucumbers and carrot slivers.
Enter, center stage, the salad of the 1980s.
It appears complete with edible flowers, herb sprigs, wild field greens, hydroponic or baby lettuces, sun-dried tomatoes, smoked meats and fish and many vegetables that had been overlooked.
The agents for these chlorophyll-laden new stars are the country's food purveyors, farmers, cottage industry entrepreneurs and chefs who have committed themselves to offering diners something new for their palates as well as for their eyes.
Edible Flowers Added
In many gourmet restaurants, the dinner salad has changed its role to include greens such as arugula, mache, watercress, endive, radicchio, baby romaine, bibb or oakleaf lettuces, dandelion greens, escarole, curly endive and an assortment of flowers that serve as edible accessories to the newly dressed-up plates.
The salads are a melange of flavors--nutty, bitter, mellow, warm and sweet--that offer the diner more than the recommended daily dose of roughage.
These salads are not just fillers between the appetizer and entree course at a restaurant but often meals in themselves.
With the addition of a sauteed breast of duck or chicken, poached salmon, shrimp, lobster, cheese, mushrooms, string beans, potatoes, peppers and pasta, innovative lunch or dinner salad combinations can be concocted.
As chefs popularize the use of these new products and new ways of using old favorites such as mustard greens and kale, consumers look to their grocery stores for the same items.
More Types of Lettuce
At most of the major grocery-store chains, there are more types of lettuce offered than just iceberg and romaine, though consumers may not know how to use the many varieties now available to them.
Following are some recipes and some tips for using the new greens.
--Combine the bitter tastes of radicchio, watercress, sorrel, endive, dandelion greens, arugula and nasturtium leaves with more mellow greens such as romaine, Boston or bibb lettuce and dress them with fruit vinaigrettes, balsamic vinegar and olive oil. These vinaigrettes--made with combinations of balsamic, raspberry, blueberry and peach vinegars and walnut, pecan, hazelnut, almond and olive oils--can stand up to the strong flavors of these greens.
--Use greens such as endive, watercress, radicchio and red oak leaf lettuce as a bed for items served hot, such as cooked meats and seafood. The vinaigrettes for these salads can be added warm, wilting the greens slightly. If you are sauteing meat for the salad, deglaze the saute pan with a vinegar after the meat is removed and prepare the vinaigrette in the hot pan. Add shallots, herbs and the oil, whisk, then pour over the meats and greens.