Salads seem to be on every menu and plate today. And with the advent of the pre-cut, pre-washed and pre-bagged greens in every grocery store, it seems that salad can be the last minute afterthought accompaniment to any meal. Need a side dish? Salad!
And if that salad is a standard iceberg lettuce, grated carrot offering, it isn’t anything to write home about now, is it? So it’s safe to bet that any change-out that will liven up those uber-healthy greens and create a tantalizing new taste sensation is always welcome.
One interesting trend I’ve noted lately—having traveled on some press tours and eaten in some divine restaurants recently—is the tendency to place whole leaves upon the salad plate and then drizzle them with dressing. Now these aren’t standard old iceberg leaves. These are tender, buttery leaflets that melt in the mouth. They are so sweet they almost make you forget that this is a green vegetable category that actually falls into the “good for you” range.
Salad greens that work quite well as whole leaves include tender red leaf, green leaf, Boston (aka Buttercrunch)—and if the leaves are young (and even better: from your own garden), arugula and spinach can easily fit the bill too.
And then there are salads that are served as meals. Salads can be so satisfying (and hopefully not with the calorie count to knock down a Big Mac) that they leave you with a feeling of fulfillment and vitality that can actually turn your day around. Now that’s one powerful salad.
I usually feel best if I have salad as a side dish with most meals. Some days that means tossing a few spinach leaves on a plate and setting the Greek or Italian dressing bottle on the counter top (Even better when those leaves have been just recently picked from our backyard garden—luckily spring is here).
One other utterly convenient and timely coincidence with the newest trend in salads is that it doesn’t have us arguing whether it’s better to tear or cut those greens. Just arrange ‘em on the plate and drizzle some dressing. That’s some of the quickest, easiest meal prep—and what I like best!
Yet I do so enjoy intriguing twists and variations on salads that I may not have thought of—and that happened quite recently at a delightful dinner that I had with some other writers during a press tour of the Holland, Michigan area.
After rising much-too-early for a long morning of travel, it was bliss to settle in at the table of Boatwerks and allow my travel-weary eyes to relax out over the gentle flowing waters of Lake Macatawa and listen to the more experienced travelers espouse the virtues of this Michigan-inspired menu.
I learned that Michigan is home to a top-notch cherry crop—but if you’re not there when the cherry season is in full swing, no worries. Dried Michigan cherries abound. Thus it was with the Boatwerks House Salad: it touted those famous dried Michigan cherries—and that sounded like exactly the sweet pick-me-up punch that this early-rising, tad-too-tired traveler needed.
A sweet, chewy, sink-your-teeth bite is one complement that I so enjoy on a salad. When in a pinch I’ll use standard raisins—and I’ve had green salads that use dried cranberries for a similar (if tangier) effect. But dried cherries? Never had ‘em on a salad and this was something I was looking forward to.
Not to mention that they were accompanied by crunchy, carmelized pecan chunks and a light raspberry vinaigrette. Does eating get much better than this?
I doubt it. Possibly only if there would be another handful of the pecans tossed in there. I found my fork treasure hunting through the greens to pair up those delectably crunchy pecans with the sweet chewiness of those dried cherries.
Come to think of it, these delectably sweet treats are a super way to get kids to eat salad. Little bit o’ sweet. Little bit o’ crunch.
Note: And if you’d like to bite into some Michigan dried cherries and you’re not in the area, check out these stores that sell online:
• Traverse Bay Farms: http://www.traversebayfarms.com/driedcherries.htm
• King Orchards: http://www.mi-cherries.com/order2.htm
• Cherry Stop: http://www.thecherrystop.com/driedcherries.aspx
Next week: Got Wind? Grind Flour
Crunchy-Sweet Pecan Salad Topping Recipe
Serves/Makes: .5 cup
Ready in: under 30 minutes
* 1/2 cup pecan halves or pieces
* 1 teaspoon maple syrup
Place a small cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. When pan is warm, add pecans and roast, stirring frequently, for 3-4 minutes until nuts are golden and release a wonderfully nutty aroma. Turn heat off. Drizzle maple syrup over nuts and stir quickly, helping to coat all pieces.
Place coated nuts on a plate to cool (about 30 minutes), and serve.
Christine's Notes: Perfect when topping a salad of Buttercrunch lettuce with some of those dried Michigan cherries.