The Dept. of Salad: Official Bulletin #5
I see great things in salad. It will repair our losses and be a blessing to us.
CHEF SALAD: Gabrielle Langholtz
BACK WHEN I WAS MAKING THE BIZARRE DECISION to dedicate my remaining years on the planet to salad, I became obsessed with the idea that there is no American Salad.
Russians have Russian Salad (sort of), Greeks the Greek Salad. And there are a lot of appealing salads in other countries—Malaysian Kerabu, Romanian Salată de sfeclă, Indonesian Ketoprak; we’ll talk about some of these later— that aren’t quite as well known in the American mainstream. If they ever are, we’ll probably ruin them. (I’m in a bad mood, thanks to . . . America.)
The idea of trying to come up with a representative American salad today is, of course, a kind of a fool’s errand. But I see myself as a curator of that sort of thing, so I wanted to discuss the topic with an expert.
I had a Zoom with Gabrielle Langholtz, a longtime student of American food whose books I adore; her most recent are United Tastes of America and A Place at the Table: New American Recipes from the Nation's Top Foreign-Born Chefs.
“When I think about the classic Americana menu, and America’s reputation for salad, I think of potato salad, tuna salad, macaroni salad, ham salad. The kind of thing you’d get with a cup of coffee in a cafeteria in 40s 50s and 60s,” she told me. (Before you freak out: we both love tuna salad and potato salad.)
Langholtz understood why I feel we’ve given up as a nation when it comes to being salad forward. The first American salad that springs to mind for me—a white woman who grew up in the south, at a time when a Cobb Salad would have been absolutely exotic—is the chef salad, which has gotten trampled and tired, a perfunctory pile of greens loaded with cheap cold cuts and cheese.
“Of course I get it,” she said. “I was at a pizzeria with my husband’s family in upstate New York about 15 years ago, and I ordered a salad at a pizzeria. I had this total epiphany. I thought: Oh, my god, this is so bad! It’s no wonder people think they don’t like salad. They’re having this? It’s awful. . . It was like something you get on an airplane.”
Langholtz grew up in Juneau, Alaska, where her parents moved from Monterey, California. “We feasted on salmon and king crab and moose, but the produce there was absolutely terrible—hard pink tomatoes, carrots turning white, and tasteless iceberg going brown. My mother used to say, ‘When they throw the produce away in Monterey, they send it to Alaska.’ It had been on a barge. We had a little garden, where we grew our own peas and potatoes, and we picked amazing blueberries. But good luck finding a decent salad.”
So unlike me, Langholtz is not an ingrate. She has a particularly keen sense of how lucky we all are in America that the greenmarket movement changed the way we eat forever. (It helps that she worked for many years at Greenmarket NYC doing their PR and communications, and wrote The New Greenmarket Cookbook for them.)
“My generation grew up thinking salad meant simply iceberg, which I don’t hate, but now you can get incredibly fresh, varieties of vegetables thanks to the greenmarket movement—Treviso, frisee, butterhead, endive, rocket, purple mustard, sugar snap peas, fennel—just fill in the blanks. When I moved to NYC, in 1998, it was just a wonderland of extraordinary salads.
“You could order something as simple as lettuce and shallots and Dijon vinaigrette, made with gorgeous fresh ingredients. And it would be amazing. And I just love bitter greens. So a salad of chicory, fennel, radicchio, with maybe winter squash and pumpkin seeds? Who wants a burger when you can have that? I don’t even want to eat dessert. I just want three of these salads.”
We agreed that if you have access to such great produce in season you don’t, strictly speaking, need a recipe when it comes to making great salads at home.
And we also agreed that I was asking a lot from a single salad. Because A.) Why would anyone want just one kind of salad, and B.) Why would you strap a poor salad with the responsibility of representing all of America, like some tricked-out, overexposed pageant winner that nobody really identifies with?
Especially considering the gloriously diverse nation we live in.
“American food has evolved and improved so much since its mid-century days of macaroni cafeteria salad,” Langholtz said. “And so much of that has to do with the contributions of immigrants who have come here from around the world and brought their recipes and ingredients with them. Today, we benefit from getting to eat the cuisines of their homeland, when we share dinner or visit their Cambodian or Senegalese or Israeli restaurants. But the most American story, of course, is that when people come here, they often invent something completely new. That’s true of food, too.
“I was on a panel at Monticello. Someone asked: what’s the future of American food. And Tennessean writer Kevin West replied: Kimchi tacos. And I thought: yes.”
The first salad Langholtz sent me (we have two for you) is delicious any time, but especially perfect for Thanksgiving, because it involves sweet potatoes but eighty-sixes the false and frankly cartoonish idea of Thanksgiving that many of us were traditionally taught to believe for such a long time.
“When people think of sweet potato it’s always gloopy and has maple or brown sugar or . . . marshmallows,” she said.
“But this has a Vietnamese dressing with lime, serrano pepper, cilantro, mint, and peanuts. It’s so flavorful and bright. "Admittedly, sweet potatoes with marshmallow are an American tradition,” she says. “But this salad is a little bit more of what America is now. It welcomes immigrants to the table.
I’d been extremely cranky about America for a while, and I felt just a little bit better after talking to Langholtz, who made me remember the beautiful truth about our country.
“America has flavors from around the world that are making our cuisine better,” she said. “But it’s not just in food, or any one area, of course. Immigrants make the country better.”
Both of the recipes Langholtz gave me are great ideas for fall and winter suppers, so make them even if you’re not doing Thanksgiving. (You shouldn’t be doing Thanksgiving, but if you are wear your mask the entire time.)
Shallot, lime, and jalapeno: Mmmmm
TAMAR ADLER’S SPICY SWEET POTATO SALAD, from Gabrielle Langholtz’s The New Greenmarket Cookbook
2 ½ pounds large sweet potatoes, about 2-3
1 finely chopped jalapeno, seeds included
1 large thinly sliced shallot or ¼ red onion thinly sliced (I made this twice and preferred the red onion)
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice from about 3 whole limes
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup roughly chopped mint
¼ cup roughly chopped cilantro
¼ cup chopped roasted peanuts
Preheat the oven to 400
Prick the sweet potatoes with a fork and bake on a foil lined baking sheet for about an hour, until the flesh is completely tender.
Let the potatoes cool on counter, then refrigerate to firm them up. Meanwhile, combine the jalapeno and shallot (or onion) in a large bowl with a pinch of salt and the lime juice. Allow to sit for at least 10 minutes or up to a few hours.
When the sweet potatoes are cold, peel and cut them into thick rounds then add the macerated shallots and jalapeno, plus the olive oil, the herbs, and the salt. Toss gently to combine. Garnish with chopped peanuts and serve.
JONATHAN WAXMAN’S BRUSSELS SPROUTS SALAD, from Gabrielle Langholtz’s The New Greenmarket Cookbook
This is basically slaw made in heaven. The garlic croutons soak up the lemon dressing, like delicious little sponges, and the sparky hits of Parmesan and bright green parsley are especially harmonious.
¼ of a day-old baguette (about a 6-8 inch piece) NOTE FROM THE DOS: we used a slice of ciabatta of the same size; it was perfect
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
3 garlic cloves, divided
1 purple torpedo onion or small red onion
4 tablespoons lemon juice, from 2 lemons
16 ounces brussels sprouts, about a dozen
½ cup loosely packed flat leaf parsley leaves
2 ounces shaved parmesan (optional) NOTE FROM THE DOS: we personally do not consider Parmesan optional, ever
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 375
Slice the baguette in half lengthwise. Open up and drizzle the cut sides with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and bake until golden, about 10-12 minutes. Remove from the oven and rub immediately with 1 cut clove of garlic. Once cook, tear it into bite-sized pieces and add to a large mixing bowl.
Peel and halve the onion, then slice it into ¼ inch thick slices. Peel and smash the remining 2 garlic cloves.
Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil, then the onions and garlic. Season with ½ teaspoon of salt and a few cranks of black pepper and cook slowly over low heat until tender, 10-12 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, discard the garlic cloves, and add the lemon juice and 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Stir and leave to rest in the sauté pan.
Trim the cut end of the sprouts. Using a mandoline or a sharp knife, slice the sprouts lengthwise as thinly as possible. Add to the large mixing bowl with the croutons. Pour the onion mixture over the top and toss well to combine.
Finish with the parsley leaves and Parmesan. Adjust the salt, pepper, and lemon juice to taste, toss again gently, and serve.
Lemon onion dressing for shaved Brussels sprouts: Mmmm
Green goddess dip: Mmmmmm
*RECIPE: Convertible Greek Goddess Dip/Dressing
As I was trying to get used to our new and unreal reality this summer, like every other human on the planet, I made a lot of salad. A whole lot. I’ve told you that. It was glorious.
But, little secret: I also made a hell of a lot of party dip, which I would set out with crudites (when I made onion dip, I had chips) on my coffee table as if I were having guests over. Obviously, no one was coming over. I was trying to be civilized in an uncivilized world. Dip Day was always Friday: clam dip, onion dip, Green Goddess dip, feta dip. Delicious, and something to look forward to in a vacuum.
And then I stopped, because I was beginning to feel like a character in a Tennessee Williams play.
Homemade onion dip: Mmmmmm
But my obsession with Green Goddess didn’t stop. It got stronger.
Before this summer, I’d probably only had the dressing a long time ago, from a bottle, or in my college cafeteria, but rarely in a restaurant. And today you don’t even see it in the grocery store. So when I made the Green Goddess dip this summer, my feeling was one of being personally wronged by the world. Why hadn’t anyone told me about this stuff? I’d wasted so many years NOT eating homemade Green Goddess.
I read a bit about its origins, including a passage in a super-charming book that Gabrielle Langholtz recommended to me, American Food: A Not-So-Serious History, where I learned that Green Goddess salad dressing was created in San Francisco in 1923, by Philipp Roemer, the executive chef at the Palace Hotel. It surprised me that it was named to honor an actor who was starring in a theatre production of the same name. It did not surprise me that it originated in California, which should be called the Delicious State rather than the Golden State. It is often served there on a salad topped with cold shrimp or crab.
But for our purposes, the only thing you really need to know is that Green Goddess should be in your repertoire, in heavy rotation, as both a dip and a salad dressing. And my recipe can be both.
It’s very hard to screw up Green Goddess. It’s not always easy to find tarragon, my favorite herb and the one that really strikes the bright green but somehow murky note in combination with the anchovy. But I have made fantastic versions with no tarragon at all; some vintage cookbooks I own call for using tarragon vinegar instead, and I may try that. Whether you use it as a dip or as a dressing, it’s a crazy, confusing, exhilarating flavor bomb. A perfect post-election mid-pandemic hell in a handbasket balm.
My latest version is the result of still having mint, chives, and parsley growing on my deck and my crappy grocer having tarragon in stock, which is rare. As long as you have a mix of herbs that play nicely together (I love it with dill), a bit of something oniony (scallion, red onion, shallot), and the anchovies, you’ll be fine. I add a small bit of garlic, but it’s great without it. You can play around with the ratio of sour cream and mayo to suit your taste, but in my opinion the sour cream should always be greater. This is not traditional: the original recipe had no sour cream at all. But I love sour cream, and it cuts the unctuousness of straight mayo with anchovy. It’s more refreshing. I also usually double the recipe whenever I make it now.
1 tablespoon chopped tarragon
2 Tablespoons chopped mint (or basil)
2 tablespoons chopped chives
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1 tablespoon chopped red onion
1 small clove garlic, smashed
4-5 anchovy filets (I like a lot of anchovy; try 2-3 if they scare you)
2 tablespoon of lemon juice, more to taste
¼ cup mayo
3/4 cup sour cream
Pinch of salt if needed (it never seems to need salt to me)
TO CONVERT THE DIP TO DRESSING:
1/4 cup buttermilk
¼ cup mayonnaise
1 Tablespoon of lemon juice, or to taste
Salt and black pepper as desired (I do pepper, but no salt)
FOR THE DIP: Add the first 8 ingredients to a food processor or blender (I use a bullet blender, which is perfect for this) and process until smooth, a minute or so. Add the mayo and process again, briefly. Scrape the mixture into a small mixing bowl and stir in the sour cream. Adjust the lemon juice to taste. Refrigerate until very cold and serve with crudites.
FOR THE DRESSING: Simply whisk in the buttermilk and additional mayo and adjust the seasonings and lemon. Chill it. Eat it on greens. Eat it on cold shrimp and greens. Have it in an avocado, in the little bowl the pit leaves when removed. Drink it through a straw. Up to you.
*RECIPE: Bitter greens with bacon, pecans, and warm balsamic dressing
Makes 4 servings
This is another favorite salad that I cobbled together many years ago, from the memory of something I saw even more years ago in a magazine. That memory, like the fuzzy one that produced my Purloined Beet and Lentil Salad from last week, is also probably from the defunct Metropolitan Home magazine food section, which was simply the best. I got a note from the former editor this week, reminding me that several of the editors went on to found Saveur, which showed the wonderful Met Home influence very much back in those days.
I love the internet, maybe a little too much, but I really miss the experience, back in the 90s, of getting in the bathtub after work with a stack of food magazines (and probably a giant glass of wine). I can’t believe how many I threw in the trash, after tearing out pages with recipes, putting them in a folder which I never organized, then eventually losing the folder. Naively believing that these magazines would always be around. Anyway: this is a simply fantastic salad, which would be a perfect Thanksgiving starter. If you’re doing Thanksgiving. Which you shouldn’t be.
I developed it for the Chicago Tribune when I worked there, but I wrote it as a hot dressing. You pour it, still very warm, over sturdy greens, and pecans that have gotten a quick crisping up in bacon drippings. That hot part got left out, so I’m taking this opportunity to redeem my hot dressing desires.
4-5 slices bacon, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces.
1 cup pecan halves
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
2 shallots, halved lengthwise, sliced into 1/4-inch slices
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 to 2 tablespoons brown sugar
8 cups mixed sturdy bitter greens (radicchio, endive, frisee, arugula; you decide)
Cook bacon in a medium skillet over medium-high heat until crisp; remove to a paper-towel-lined plate. Cool; crumble. Remove all but 1/4 cup of the bacon grease in the skillet; toss in pecans. Cook, stirring, until fragrant, being careful not to burn, about 1 minute. Remove with slotted spoon to paper towel.
Add olive oil to skillet; heat over medium heat. Add garlic, shallots, salt and pepper; cook until garlic and shallots are softened, 1-2 minutes. Add the vinegars and brown sugar; cook until dressing comes to a boil, about 2 minutes. Adjust seasonings. Place greens, pecans and bacon in a salad bowl and toss with the hot dressing. This would be delicious with shaved Parmesan passed at the table.
NEXT WEEK: We may or may not have a story about a very important salad bowl, from author Kevin Conley. But who knows at this point? It feels like we live in a world of enormous changes at the last minute. Plus, chicken salad for adults. Plus plus: Please Stop Making Fun of Vintage Salads: An Important Essay by Emily Nunn.