Wookiee Hut Cuisine presents:
Salad Days: Designing a Dinner Salad
by SuSu

"Salad days" is a term coined by William Shakespeare to refer to a time of youth, with its inexperience, enthusiasm, idealism, innocence, or indiscretion — everything good or bad which one associates with a young person. Yet, the ability to make a salad is something that actually requires experience and wisdom.

Guidelines in anything can be helpful, and it helps to think of salad ingredients as components or groupings. Starting with lettuce as a base, add five well-chosen ingredients and a salad dressing to make a restaurant-worthy salad meal. Some examples of the categories are given below. This idea really crosses cultures and universes, in that the components remain constant even as the actual ingredients change depending on your environment and availability.

So whether you are foraging through Muggle stores and fields (as Hermione did in "Deathly Hallows") or eating vegetation on roadsides and forests in the galaxy far, far, away, knowing how to select your edibles and to put together a salad means your food will always be interesting and tasty, and you'll stay in decent health!

Note that many ingredients occupy more than one category, but it doesn't mean you have to include them twice — it's more interesting if you don't. Do try out a combination you find interesting, and make notes about what goes well with what, according to your palate. The more you practice and experiment, the more intuitive and tasty your salads will become!

First, choose a good lettuce base — like iceberg, romaine, butter lettuce, baby spinach, mesclun mix, or field greens like arugula (rocket), watercress, dandelion, etc. You can choose just one, or a mix of them.

Next, add an ingredient from each of 5 categories: juicy; a protein; savory or sweet; fresh and crunchy; and buttery / warm / chewy. If you like salad dressing, you need to choose one which complements your choices, but a basic vinaigrette will never be wrong.

For convenience, see the table below, and start by choosing at least one ingredient in each of the categories. The trick is to create a harmonious blend of flavors, textures, tastes, and temperatures — warming or cooking ingredients is a great way to alter an ingredient and create a more interesting mix.

Though you should keep in mind that some combinations may not work, in general the sky's the limit. It's mostly limited by availability, predilections, and your pocketbook. And what you have lurking in your fridge as leftovers, of course!

NOTE: You'll notice that many ingredients occupy two or more categories. A lot has to do with your perception of an ingredient or category, too!

The Categories

Proteins: meat, fish, cheese, other This is usually what the salad is named for, though it need not be present in large quantity. In a salad, often less is more for the protein. (Remember, a salad is a good way to stretch out a protein.)
Leftover meat or packaged meat is very convenient. Try flavored chicken or tuna, grilled steak or chops, roasted meat of fish of any kind, canned tuna, smoked salmon, bacon. even fried food. Doggy-bag leftovers from a restaurant meal are excellent in salads.

Cheeses do best on salads when they have a piquancy or sharpness, like parmesan, goat cheese (chevre), feta or farmer's cheese, bleu cheese, cheddar, smoked cheeses, etc. Texture and "mouthfeel" are also important to consider.

Other proteins can include smoked or flavored tofu or seitan products (they often come as "mock duck" or "curried gluten"). And don't forget other alternatives like boiled eggs!
Savory and/or Sweet This is typically the "accent" to the protein and can really change the mood of a salad; it's shares billing with the protein in the name of the salad.
Red peppers (roasted or marinated), raisins, orange slices, strawberries, apples, roasted nuts, toasted seeds (like sesame), onions (raw or marinated), olives, artichokes, etc.
Juicy and Moist This not only gives moisture to the salad, but the choices you make carry a flavor that will determine the "theme" of the salad. For instance, if you choose something marinated or pickled, that tends to lead you to different choices than choosing mandarin orange slices.
Tomatoes, marinated artichokes or mushrooms, canned mandarins, fresh oranges, cucumbers, red bell peppers, dill pickles, corn kernels, canned beets, pineapple chunks, etc.
Crispy and Fresh This choice should complement the choices above. This ingredient is typically water-rich and fiber-rich, too. In addition, though the flavors are distinctive, they are not strong.
Traditional favorites include raw carrots, celery, cucumbers, broccoli or cauliflower florets, raw green peppers, etc. Also consider distinctive "ethnic" ingredients like water chestnut slices or a julienne of ginger, etc.
Warm, Buttery, or Chewy This is normally a carbohydrate like croutons, and is an important textural element. These can be scattered over or tossed into the salad, or served on the side.
Roasted or toasted nuts, croutons (bought or made from leftover bread and seasonings), corn kernels, bread pieces (pita, flat bread, foccacia), even leftover cold pizza cut up into little squares, cooked rice, etc.

As for the dressings, any commercially available bottled dressing is fine. You should not only try new dressings, but also try combining them. How? There are many ways, but here is a practical example — if you find a french-style dressing too sweet and a bleu cheese too tart, try putting a bit of each on your next salad.

For a basic vinaigrette, remember the proverb which states:
it takes three men to make a salad: a miserly man for the vinegar, a generous man for the oil, and a wise man for the salt.

Most vinaigrettes are one-part acid to three-parts oil, but can vary according to your tastes. Mix them in a jar with a tight-fitting screw-lid and add a dollop of mustard and salt, to taste. Add a touch of sweetener to take the "rough edge" off the sharpness of the vinegar and mustard: try brown sugar or honey. If desired, add chopped fresh or dried herbs or spices, too.

Some inspirational suggestions for combos we've liked in the past:

romaine tuna onions tomatoes cucumbers pita or flatbread wedges Greek or olive oil vinaigrette
butter lettuce, baby spinach goat cheese onions oranges celery roasted walnuts creamy raspberry vinaigrette or poppyseed
field greens or mesclun bacon raisins marinated mushrooms broccoli roasted sunflower seeds bleu cheese or french
frisée or chicory pan-fried thick-cut bacon bits chives cherry tomatoes carrots cubed bread, fried in bacon fat dijon mustard, oil, red wine vinegar, seasoned with salt and pepper
spinach hard-boiled eggs fried bacon bits grated cheese bacon bits herb garlic croutons bleu cheese or buttermilk ranch
spinach grilled chicken roasted or marinated red peppers canned mandarins toasted sesame seeds fried chinese noodles creamy poppyseed
watercress and arugula pan-seared duck breast bleu cheese roasted cherry tomatoes water chestnuts toasted baguette slices mustard-parsley vinaigrette
romaine or iceberg sliced grilled steak onions red bell peppers celery corn chips or tortilla chips salsa, barbecue, ranch

* A tip — that last salad can be more like a "fajita" if you pan-cook the peppers, onions, and celery and serve them warm over the steak and lettuces. Cooking or adding temperature contrast will make a salad seem more like a meal.

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