Salad Daze

Salads are versatile. They can be anything from a few bites to whet the appetite or finish a plating to a complete meal. For real salad courses, there are a few regulars that always seem to be on restaurant menus. Caesar salads always find a place, but few are made in the traditional style. Call me retro, but there is something about table service that makes fine dining an experience.

Watching a Caesar being prepared from scratch is not only fun, but is an education in balance—how disparate elements like garlic, anchovy, egg yolk and parmesan combine to create salty-creamy-tangy flavors and the croutons and lettuce contribute crunch. The dressing has nothing in it that you wouldn’t find in your pantry, and the classic technique of preparing the whole thing in a big wooden bowl invites some showmanship. Most Caesars suffer from an overdose of garlic, which shouldn’t ever happen when you consider the classic “made-in-the-bowl” recipe instructs that the garlic merely be rubbed into the wood and then discarded. And our ridiculous fear of raw egg makes preparing the salad an exercise in crisis management.

Another salad that has become ubiquitous is a beet salad with baby greens, goat cheese and walnuts or pecans. It surprises me that people who normally wrinkle their noses at roasted beets nevertheless relish this. But it supports the theory that a great salad combo is way more than the sum of simple parts.

Here is what I think makes a satisfying salad. Not too many ingredients, not too many varied greens, a mix of salty-sweet-pungeant, and a balance between enjoying all the elements together and yet allowing individual ingredients to keep their own flavors.

We’ve posted a salad that fits that bill nicely. The Grapefruit Avocado Shrimp Salad places its titular elements on a simple bed of butter lettuce, and the dressing is a hybrid catalina-thousand island recipe that is both sweet and vinegary.  Ripe avocado, barely-cooked shrimp and grapefruit supremes make the salad as good to look at as it is to eat. Add a few more shrimp and the salad can be a small main meal.

The whole segments of grapefruit are an elegant part of the salad. These grapefruit “supremes” are easy to extract from the fruit, even though it seems like it’s a lot of tedious peeling. Watch the accompanying video to see how Sharri Wolfgang does it, and you may never cut a grapefruit in half again.