Salad Secrets Revealed

If you follow many food blogs, by now you’re probably referenced out on Julia Child, who, if she were still here, would have celebrated her 100th this past week… forgive me for adding another thin mint to the buffet.  Who can resist such a dame who provides us with quips like “every woman needs a blowtorch”?!  Beyond her brilliant cooking and teaching, her humor is what I miss the most.  A few more of my favorites..….

“Being tall is an advantage, especially in business. People will always remember you. And if you’re in a crowd, you’ll always have some clean air to breathe.”

“Why languish as a giantess when it is so much fun to be a myth?”

“How can a nation be called great if its bread tastes like Kleenex?”

No disrespect, but, when it comes to salad, I wonder if  Julia suffered a bias against it.  Leafing through the index of her “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”, I see that salad gets four pages of attention, as compared with fifty for sauces and eighty-five for desserts.  True, not a lot of instruction is needed for salad, and it is, after all, a book about cooking.  Her recipe for a basic vinaigrette looks perfectly reliable.  As is usually done, dressing is poured onto greens and the whole of it is tossed together.  This can provide an adequate result, given good proportions.  But I think there’s potential that’s not being realized, and although ingredients are important, method can make all the difference.  I would like to propose an alternative that, if I may say so, surpasses in the end.  I’ve been using it for so long that I don’t remember how I came upon it.  I like to think I invented it.

It may take some trial and error regarding the amounts of oil and vinegar, because they won’t be measured and success comes from getting a feel for it.  It works for me and seems like the one, true and only way to proceed.

I always start with a medium sized stainless steel bowl.  This would be for 3 to 4 servings.  Into it goes a small to medium sized clove of garlic and a few dashes of salt.  The two are mashed together with the back of a fork.  I suppose a glass or ceramic bowl would work, but it is necessary to use a lot of force in the mashing, and we don’t want any accidents.  A good substantial fork with a nice curve is necessary, as a cheap dollar-store variety will just provide a miserable exercise.  If you are in the kind of mood where you want to beat the hell out of something, so much the better.  What you want to end up with is a purée.  If the garlic you are using is not fresh and wet, it will be harder to achieve.  Nevertheless, soldier on.  Next thing is to wash and dry the greens.  Really really dry, as much as you have patience for.  Personally, I don’t have the patience to get them really dry.  I spin them and then they still need blotting with a towel but I just let go of it.
Now we arrive at the crux of the process.  Using either tongs or a bare hand, work the greens around the sides of the bowl so that they mingle with the garlic and before long they are no longer two separate entities but married together in a harmonious union.  When you are satisfied as to the equilibrium, you may add other vegetables, such as, fennel, carrot, celery, peppers, mushrooms, etc.  Except: add neither tomatoes nor cucumbers at this point.  Pour some olive oil over everything and ‘toss’ with tongs to coat evenly.  Then splash some vinegar or lemon juice onto it.  Toss again.  Now you may top it off with chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, oranges, or anything that would be so wet as to water down the dressing.  Do not toss.

Ingredients for a Salad

First You Take Some Garlic and Salt

Begin the mashing with the tines of the fork.

Keep workin’ it, tipping the bowl helps, and using the sides for better traction.

By now you’re using the solid back more than the tines.

Sufficiently Smashed, Close-up

Spun Greenery

All Torn Up

Taking Up the Garlic

Added Vegetables

Adding Olive Oil

Tossed with Olive Oil, Looks Like the Right Amount

Easy on the Vinegar, and Toss


Sometimes I like to transfer it to a glass bowl for appearance-sake.

Crowned with Tomatoes


To make a good salad is to be a brilliant diplomatist – the problem is entirely the same in both cases. To know how much oil one must mix with one’s vinegar.”
Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

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3 Responses to Salad Secrets Revealed

  1. You are right. Julie Child neglected the art of la salade composee. I always learn something when I read your own masterful blog. I never knew, for example, that you should mix the dressing in with the greens, and then add your other ingredients on top. But when I think about it, this method makes perfect culinary sense! Thanks!

  2. Typo Correction: JuliA Child.

  3. Maureen says:

    I think the key is that the greens are mixed first with oil and then with vinegar. And no wet items to dilute it; that’s why they should just sit on top. And ideally, after the salad is consumed, the bowl should have very little residual dressing.
    Thanks Karen!

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