For salad lovers this is a heady time of year, with early cucumbers, flawless carrots, and more varieties of lettuce and greens than a person can shake a salad fork at. Best of all, budding in the back of the mind, is the promise of tomatoes just around the corner.
Perhaps I should say this is an easy time of year
to make a salad, rather than a good time. Because with an expanded notion of what constitutes a salad, no time of year is a bad one.
For instance, not long ago a relative served a pungent, juicy grated beet and onion salad, my first inkling that beets could be eaten raw. Another shocker was a newspaper recipe for an Italian salad calling for bread as its base ingredient. (I haven’t tried it yet, but it’s a fascinating idea.)
My tired concept of a three-bean salad was revived last winter when I sampled a spicy black bean salad with corn, red pepper, parsley, and walnuts. It was so good, I began looking out for recipes using grains and legumes as salad material. "Lentil and Chickpea," "Apricot Walnut Wheatberry," and "Tomato Quinoa" are some of the gleanings.
BECAUSE FREQUENT exposure has dulled people’s enthusiasm for so-called "rabbit food," the cook’s job is to add an element of surprise to the salad bowl. Try daikon radish—a long, white root—instead of the red variety. Add a fresh herb, such as basil, to the greens. Sprinkle toasted nuts on top. Use spinach instead of lettuce. Make homemade croutons.
Experiment freely with different salad dressings. I usually serve one tried-and-true dressing such as a Ranch style, along with an experimental one so I won’t offend someone not enthused about an odder flavor (odder flavor being something such as orange-sesame, honey-mustard, sherry vinaigrette, or hot bacon).