When I was a kid, salads only meant one thing: iceberg lettuce torn into shreds, chopped-up tomatoes, croutons from a Marie Callender’s bag, and a glug of dressing from a bottle. Mostly, we liked ranch dressing, but sometimes there was a bottle of Italian dressing with viscous bits floating in it. A few times, there was overly sweet French dressing.
(I know folks who grew up in Italy and France. They must have been so confused to come to the States for the first time and find these plastic bottles ascribing these abominations to their countries.)
I don’t blame my parents. That’s what everyone ate as salads in Southern California in the 70s and 80s. As soon as I write that, I know it’s not true. There must have been some families eating artichoke hearts, butter lettuce, and homemade vinaigrette. My dear friend Sharon, who grew up in South Dakota, ate curries and unusual casseroles, thanks to the recipes her mom ripped out of the pages of Gourmet. So I know that quite a few people must have been eating interesting salads in the 1970s. It just wasn’t me.
For years I had this feeling of obligation about salads, based on the paltry selections offered me and the lack of taste in those pale tomatoes and watery lettuce. Salads are healthy. Salads are what you eat when you want to lose weight. Sharon and I used to convince ourselves, in our late teens, that bowls of lettuce without any dressing actually tasted good. We were lying to ourselves. We ate those salads out of desperation to change our bodies by denying ourselves flavor.
Thankfully, I’m not in my late teens anymore. Flavor is my first consideration when it comes to food now. And I eat a salad for lunch nearly every day.
What I didn’t know thirty years ago is that “salad” can mean warm brown rice, sauteed chard, sunflower seeds, goat cheese, and green goddess dressing made with yogurt and fresh herbs. Salad can also mean tomatoes so ripe they yield to the fork easily and ooze juice you must sop up with bread. Salad can be endive, radicchio, and sliced pears, tumbled on top of roasted sweet potato. Salad can mean burrata or buckwheat groats or red leaf lettuce or roasted chickpeas or collard greens or pickled ginger or mustard greens or warm tahini or dollops of yogurt or bright red pomegranate seeds.
I certainly didn’t know, until I met Danny, that a salad could be warm quinoa, slices of hard-boiled eggs, ribbons of kale, pine nuts, and carrot-coriander vinaigrette.
I’m so glad I know more now than I did in 1972.
When we ran out of the tahini dressing we had been living on for weeks, Danny disappeared into the kitchen. I heard the sound of our juicer splaying out juice. I walked in to see him pushing carrots through the juicer. “Something for us to drink?” I asked him.
“Nope,” he said, pushing down another carrot. “Vinaigrette.”
Danny first made this carrot vinaigrette at a restaurant in Colorado, where they served this with butter lettuce, fried carrots, blue cheese croutons and fried goat cheese. Turns out it’s delicious. (Of course.) By reducing the carrot juice, Danny created something with an intense carrot taste, cut by the bite of coriander. Adding champagne vinegar and a bit of fruity olive oil, he made a dressing we wanted to spoon onto everything that week. We put it over yellow rice, roasted chicken, wilted kale, and even in cheese quesadillas. This one’s a keeper.
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
2 cups fresh carrot juice
1 medium shallot, peeled and sliced thin
1/4 cup champagne vinegar
3/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
salt and pepper
Toasting the coriander seeds. Set a small pot on medium heat. Add the coriander seeds. Toast the seeds, tossing them around in the pot frequently, until the smell of the coriander releases itself, about 5 minutes.
Reducing the carrot juice. Pour in the carrot juice and the shallot. Cook until the carrot juice is reduced down to about 1/4 cup, about 15 to 20 minutes. (You might want to brush the sides of the pot with a pastry brush once in awhile, to prevent the sugars in the carrot juice from burning.) Add the champagne vinegar to the carrot juice and give it a stir.
Finishing the vinaigrette. Pour the liquid in the pot into a blender. Blend on medium speed. Slowly, drizzle in the olive oil until the oil is fully incorporated into the dressing, about 2 minutes. Add the cilantro and blend until it’s mixed into the dressing. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Makes about 1 1/4 cups carrot vinaigrette.
This should keep in a jar in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Use it on all the salads you make and it will disappear before you have to worry about it.