Welcome to the Department of Salad #9

I think that I shall never see / a poem as lovely as Blue Cheese.

THE DRESSING ISSUE

IT’S NO SECRET THAT HERE AT THE DEPARTMENT OF SALAD we have what you might call inappropriately tender feelings about salad. 

In fact, the very reason that I, Emily Nunn, decided to create the DOS and dedicate my remaining years on this planet to salad, as I have said before, repeatedly, was because deep into our dark pandemic summer it was salad as much as it was the sun that brought lightness back into my life.

If that sounds like a dreamy exaggeration, listen: my desk in summer looks out onto a gorgeous meadow full of flowers and butterflies and birds, a stream that I can hear when I go to sleep at night, and woods full of deer and rhododendron. Even though this beautiful world had not changed, I couldn’t seem to get any of it close enough to actually feel. I sat inside my sunshine-flooded house looking out on it all and cried. 

I decided that since I couldn’t eat the meadow or the light, I would eat the next closest thing: salads, using all the beautiful rainbow-colored stuff I could find, which kept growing despite the brutal crap mankind inflicts on this planet on a daily basis. I stopped by Barry my blackberry man’s house, I drove half an hour to the office supply store, where my peach guy parked his truck on Fridays and Saturdays to sell perfect South Carolina peaches, I went to greenmarkets and produce stands for fresh leaf lettuce and spring onions and tomatoes.

My easy summer salads were so splendid that I could dress them with little more than olive oil and a squeeze of lemon and flaky salt. I ate these refreshing salads in minutes. It made me feel like a beautiful beast, devouring the earth’s treasures!

My point: I overlooked dressing, because most of the time I didn’t need it. Salad dressing, like every single one of us on this crazy goddam planet, is fungible. 

But now that it’s gotten cold, our salads need our help. Hence, The Dressing Issue.

One of the top requests I got from you was for the ridiculously delicious Japanese restaurant-style carrot ginger dressing. This didn’t surprise me one bit. Like the rest of the upcoming familiar favorites, it’s a classic for a reason.

(Please note: we’ll be tackling more international salads and dressings later. If you have one you’d like me to include, please leave me a note in comments, which I will get to, eventually)  

And later on, we’re going to talk about free-styling with dressings (which is something I don’t do but would like to), inspired by my salad idol, Phyllis Grant, whom I featured in issue #3, and who told me that when she walks into the kitchen to make a salad, the first thing she thinks of is the dressing. (!!!) 

I will leave how you use all of today’s dressings up to you. I’ve already given you my version of Ranch Dressing (in issue #2), as well as Green Goddess (issue #5) and a basic vinaigrette, which I’ll give you again since I have room. However, just in case your imagination has died during the pandemic, please know that most of these are beautiful and delicious on a simple wedge, sprinkled with chives.

*RECIPE: My Usual Mustard Vinaigrette

1. In a jar, stir together 8 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, 3 tablespoons of red wine vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, freshly ground black pepper. Place the lid on the jar, and shake vigorously, until emulsified.

JAPANESE Dressings

*RECIPE: Ginger Carrot Dressing 

Here’s the most delicious dressing on the planet; I worked on this a lot, tinkering to get it to hit the right restauranty note. And I’ve also included the three dressings that Yukari Sakamoto gave me when she appeared in issue #7.

Makes about 2 cups

  • 3 carrots, chopped

  • ¼ cup peeled, chopped ginger

  • 3 tablespoons chopped red onion

  • 4 teaspoons soy sauce 

  • 1 Tablespoon plus ½ teaspoon Asian sesame oil

  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar

  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice

  • ½ teaspoon lemon grated lemon zest

  • ½ tsp sugar

  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup vegetable oil 

  • Salt, to taste at the end

In a food processor or bullet blender, process the carrots. Add the ginger and red onion and process again. Add the remaining ingredients—except for the vegetable oil and salt—and process until thick and smooth. From here, I started with a third of a cup of the vegetable oil, added slowly. Check for the balance and texture, if the flavor is right but it’s too thick, you can add a bit of water—a tablespoon or two, no more than a quarter of a cup. If it’s too sharp (I’ve used a lot of ginger because I love it), add a bit more of the vegetable oil to mellow it a bit. It may need a bit of salt; try a half teaspoon of flaky sea salt. 

*RECIPES: A Few of Yakuri Sakamoto’s Favorite Japanese Salad Dressings

For each recipe, simply add ingredients to a jar with a lid and shake shake shake. 

Wafu (Japanese-style) dressing
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil

  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar

  • 1/2 tablespoon sugar

  • 1/2 tablespoon soy sauce

Pietro Dressing

Pietro is an Italian restaurant chain specializing in pasta dishes. The salad dressing is popular and is sold at many supermarkets throughout Japan.

  • 1/2 small onion, grated

  • 1/2 carrot, grated

  • 3 black olives, chopped

  • 1 tablespoon sugar

  • 4 tablespoons soy sauce 

  • 1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons salad oil

  • 1/3 cup vinegar (I use rice vinegar, but other vinegars would work)

  • pepper and salt to taste

Yakiniku (barbecue) salad dressing
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons sesame oil

  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce

  • 1/2 tablespoon rice vinegar

  • 1 teaspoon powdered chicken stock concentrate (not actual chicken stock)

  • 1/2 teaspoon grated garlic

  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds (if you have both black and white, one teaspoon each)

BLUE CHEESE

There are two kinds of blue cheese dressings in this world: the kind you remember and the kind you usually get. Meaning, it never seems to be as good as what you recall having had that time at that place you once went. What you find in restaurants is usually much better than what you can buy in a bottle or jar, unless it’s a crappy restaurant, in which case they probably bought it in a giant vat, into which it was extruded from a smoke-chuffing salad-dressing factory on the edge of an industrial town. Which is why I started making it myself. 

And in the spirit of those two kinds—the good and the bad—I give you two kinds to make at home, both very good. Both are super-basic. As you know: nothing is written in stone. If you want to play around with these, do, but try them the way they’re written here first. Then, if you want to add raisins or coconut or ground beef, be my guest but please don’t post it on Instagram with my name on it. 

The second one is a vinaigrette, which is not as common but is just as good and very adaptable. 

*RECIPE: Department of Salad Basic Blue Cheese Dressing 

Makes a little over a cup

Feel free to add chopped chives, for beauty and a bit of oniony flavor. I like it with a lot of black pepper. 

  • 3 ounces blue cheese, crumbled to death (don’t leave giant lumps) 

  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise (I prefer Duke’s or homemade)

  • 1/3 cup sour cream

  • 1/3 cup buttermilk

  • 1 teaspoon tarragon vinegar

  • Salt, freshly ground black pepper

  • 2 teaspoons or so chopped chives, optional

In a large bowl, combine the cheese and mayo with a fork, mashing to blend the cheese. Whisk in the remaining ingredients. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Leave this sitting on the counter for a bit, to let the flavors meld, then stir again before refrigerating. 

*RECIPE: Department of Salad Blue Cheese Vinaigrette

Makes about 2 cups

I consider this version very old-school. My late Great Aunt Gertie made it often, but I never had it. The only reason I know about it at all is because Gertie’s daughter was a banking systems analyst who used to come into Manhattan on business back when I was covering restaurants for the New Yorker. She’d tell me to pick a place for dinner—“you decide!”  But we never went to any of them; we instead ended up back at one of her favorite spots, a dark restaurant over in the theatre district, with very good food and a blue cheese vinaigrette that reminded her of her mother. For that reason, I never objected to her ruse.  I don’t remember the name of the place.

Basically, you’re adding as much blue cheese as you wish to a simple vinaigrette, plus some cream, a bit of mayo, extra pepper. You could grate a bit of garlic in here, too, but it really doesn’t need it. Heaven.  

  • 1 cup olive oil, 

  • 2 teaspoon Dijon mustard, 

  • 6 tablespoons of red wine vinegar, 

  • 2 tablespoon heavy cream, 

  • 1 teaspoon mayonnaise, 

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, 

  • freshly ground black pepper to taste. 

  • ¼ pound crumbled blue cheese 

  1. Place the first seven ingredients in a jar with a tightly fitting lid and shake vigorously, until emulsified.

  2. Add the crumbled blue cheese and shake again. Adjust salt and pepper. 

THOUSAND ISLAND

Like a lot of classic American foods, Thousand Island Dressing, which originated around the turn of the 20thCentury, has several contradictory claims on its origin story, one of which, of course, comes from Chicago. They’ve created a lot of great foods there, but as much as I love that city: they think they started everything, and it all seems to end up at the Drake Hotel on Lake Michigan. It may very well have been created there, but I prefer the ongoing fight between two spots in the actual Thousand Islands (a group of more than 1800 islands that straddle the border of the U.S. and Canada, in the St. Lawrence River—once a playground for filthy rich people who built castles there). There’s even a movie about it; the filmmaker spent an entire year of his life delving into the mystery of the dressing’s origins but ultimately came to no conclusion about who the hell invented it. 

I don’t really care, as long as you put lots of pickles in it. Some of the earlier recipes employ NO PICKLES AT ALL. What’s the point in that? 

It flies very hard in the face of my formative Thousand Island, which came to me by way of a now defunct spot called Sam’s Gourmet, in Winston-Salem, NC, a town that owed its early restaurant scene to terrific Greek chefs. After you ordered your beef tips in wine sauce, a small wooden bowl of finely shredded iceberg and onion arrived at everyone’s place. The five kids in my family would fight over the stainless-steel carousel containing divine Thousand Island, thick blue cheese, and French, I think, but none of us ate that. We’d absolutely bury our lettuce, and I always picked the Thousand Island

I’ve tried to replicate that here. I know a lot of people like ketchup, but I stick with straight chili sauce. I have made it using dill pickles, but sweet feels more like Sam’s version.  

This recipe was somewhat influenced by Julia Reed’s version, but that one includes olives and also parsley (the latter of which is taking things just a bit too far, in my opinion).

A lot of people add a chopped hard-boiled egg, including Reed. I’ve also added my own flourish: a bit of chopped tarragon, simply because I had some and it makes everything better. It’s not necessary. But it’s super, super nice. 

*RECIPE: Department of Salad Thousand Island Dressing

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

  • 1 cup mayonnaise (I prefer Duke’s or homemade)

  • 2 tablespoons sour cream

  • 1/3 cup chili sauce

  • 4 tablespoons chopped sweet pickle (don’t use relish or cubes. They’re soggy, and the crunch of a freshly chopped pickle is part of the point here) 

  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped red onion

  • 1 teaspoon sliced fresh tarragon leaves

  • 1 teaspoon tarragon vinegar

  • Squeeze of lemon juice

  • Salt and pepper to taste. 

  • Optional: 1 hardboiled egg, finely chopped

In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients and mix well. Adjust seasonings. Jubilate. Refrigerate. Like the blue cheese, ranch, and Green Goddess: this is perfect and pretty on a wedge, sprinkled with some chives. 

THE LADY SALAD

One salad that is a classic for me, personally, uses an ingredient that was very big in the “Silver Palate” era, but that was a bit hard for me to find: raspberry vinegar. (Another one, “balsamic vinegar,” has hung on in unsavory ways, and I plan to talk about that more, but I’m too emotionally fragile right now.) 

My Aunt Mariah, who is in her eighties, has been making this salad since the 80s, and I just love it. Like a lot of her party dishes, it has a bridge club, ladies lunch quality that makes me nostalgic for the days when we gathered freely and often. I’ve included a photo of the recipe card I received after I put out the call to her daughters, who are also my lifelong dear friends, Toni and Susan. As you will see, it doesn’t include the amount/ratio of ingredients in the actual salad, so that can be up you. But I’ve included how I did it as a guide.

It’s the only full salad I’ve included today, because it goes so perfectly with the dressing.

*RECIPE: Aunt Mariah’s Salad

Serves 6 according to the recipe (4, or even 2, in my world)

Men love this salad, too, of course.

  • 2 heads Bibb lettuce, washed, dried, and torn (gently)

  • 1 very small sweet onion (I used a red one), cut in half lengthwise, thinly sliced and separated

  • 2/3 cup crumbled blue cheese (or more, I never say no to more)

  • 1/2 cup toasted sliced almonds (toast more; you may want more; Aunt Mariah has also used toasted pine nuts, of course)

Arrange the ingredients in your salad bowl attractively, in the order given, and drizzle with dressing. Show it off, toss it, adjust seasonings and dressing. 

For the dressing: 

In a jar with a tight-fitting lid, shake together 

  • ¼ cup raspberry vinegar

  • 3 tablespoons maple syrup

  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil

  • Salt and pepper to taste 

GET READY FOR CITRUS! I had a citrus salad that I was going to give you, to get everyone excited about citrus season, but I’m too tired. Something to look forward to! One nice thing: you can slice up oranges and grapefruit and keep them in your fridge to assemble a beautiful and simple composed citrus salad at the last minute. It will make you feel civilized. So more on that later.

THE DEPARTMENT OF SALAD GIFT LIST: Please consider giving to a hunger organization during this dreadful, awful year holiday season—rather than giving more stuff to the adults in your life who have enough? Or in addition? My favorite is No Kid Hungry.

NEXT WEEK: I have absolutely no idea what will be happening here in the Department of Salad. I’ll get back to you. But we’ll definitely be here, in spite of everything. In the meantime, please share the DOS Newsletter if you like the DOS Newsletter. See you next week!

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