I know that at least one regular reader of this blog doesn't eat vegetables. If he was Superman, vegetables would be his Kryptonite. This reader would get along smashingly with my father, who in the nearly thirty-three years I've known him hasn't eaten many vegetables, and would certainly never order a salad.
My mother, on the other hand, is partially responsible for my love of a wide variety of foods, including salad. Even at a young age I was accustomed to occasionally ordering a salad as a precursor to a meal. I almost always eschewed the Caesar salad in favor of a garden salad when one was available as I liked the varying tastes and textures. Crisp lettuce, crunchy cabbage, seasoned croutons, smoky bacon and pungent blue cheese. It always had to be blue cheese. In fact, I don't think I tasted a salad dressing other than blue cheese until I was a teenager at the youngest. Over time I learned how different restaurants prepared their garden salads - Denny's, for example, sprinkled hard-boiled egg atop theirs, while Lyon's did not - and if necessary asked for my order to be adjusted to my preference.
In my early-to-mid teens I enjoyed the salad bar at our local Sizzler restaurant, although eventually it seemed that the restaurant considered salad a mere afterthought, an opening salvo to the various other items corralled beneath the "all you can eat" umbrella including soup, tacos, and soft-serve ice cream. By no means did I have a problem with the excess of it all, and while I may have been looking forward to potato skins and chicken wings, I always made sure to get a helping or two of salad. With blue cheese, of course.
When I began fending for myself later in life, I would frequently make salad. The reasons for this are many, including but not limited to the fact that one need not know a thing about actually cooking in order to prepare a satisfying salad. Measuring ingredients? Seasoning? Turning on a stove or other kitchen appliance? All thankfully non-applicable. I knew how to chop lettuce (though I frequently bought a bagged pre-cut salad mix consisting of iceberg lettuce, purple cabbage and shredded carrot), and I could open a can of corn, kidney beans, or any other vegetable or legume. For me, there was nothing simpler: Begin with lettuce, add ingredients as desired, then top with salad dressing. There was almost no thought required.
It occurred to me that a salad can be as simple or as complex as one likes. As with a sandwich, a salad is essentially a blank canvas, an art project that you can eat. As my tastes developed I began to experiment. Sometimes I preferred spinach to lettuce. Sometimes I added grilled chicken for protein. I would frequently include sliced mushrooms, diced apples or shredded cheese. Sometimes I topped my salad with sunflower seeds, chow mein noodles, dried cranberries or golden raisins, though never hard-boiled egg. And yes, I eventually branched out beyond blue cheese and learned to appreciate a good vinaigrette or a zesty Italian dressing. But blue cheese is still my favorite.
Saturday night's dinner was a very simple, very satisfying salad. I started with iceberg lettuce, purple cabbage, and shredded carrot - that's right, the bagged salad mix mentioned above. Piled atop this base was a generous amount of grilled chicken strips, as well as kidney and garbanzo beans. Crumbled blue cheese and sunflower kernels topped the salad, which was then drizzled with El Torito brand cilantro pepita Caesar dressing, then tossed.
There was some leftover chicken, so I had more for lunch on Sunday. And here it is - the salad so nice I ate it twice.