How Devoted Are You to the Side Salad?

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When I was growing up, salad was regularly the vegetable side dish of choice. My mother would put me to work tearing up iceberg lettuce and grating in carrots, and sometimes we'd throw in some cherry tomatoes or sliced cucumber. I loathed this dinner chore — partly because of the tedium of tearing up lettuce and patting it dry, but also because the eating of this salad also felt like chore. It was the vegetable you had to munch through before getting to the good part of dinner. Can you relate? 

Side salads are one of the most common side dishes or dinner accompaniments. Restaurants serve a perfunctory heap of greens next to the lasagna; zillions of people dump a bag of greens into a bowl to fulfill the nutritional requirements of a well-balanced meal. 

Side salads are basic: Some greens, a few vegetables, maybe a bit of Parmesan cheese if things are getting fancy. These simple salads are easy, but they are also quite frequently boring, bland, or overdressed. And sometimes they aren't dressed at all, but brought to the table naked with an array of bottles so each diner can glop dressing on themselves. 

For a long time, I ditched the side salad completely. With memories of that childhood chore still strong, I ate other vegetables with dinner — raw celery, roasted Brussels sprouts, sautéed carrots. It felt like freedom to discover that a well-balanced meal needn't include a side salad, especially one I didn't love. 

But lately I've returned to the side salad as my easy dinner side dish. Over the years I've found ways to make side salads tasty instead boring. One of these is to use arugula or baby kale — more flavorful than iceberg or romaine. Another is to dress the salad before bringing to the table, and taste to make sure it is well-seasoned with salt and pepper. 

More of my opinions and tips for making a better side salad here: 

But I'm curious about your own opinion of the ubiquitous dinner side salad. Is it simply a gesture towards a well-balanced meal? Or is it something you regularly make and enjoy? 

(Images: Faith Durand)

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Main, Life in the Kitchen, Salad

Faith is the executive editor of The Kitchn and the author of three cookbooks. They include Bakeless Sweets (Spring 2013) as well as The Kitchn's first cookbook, which will be published in Fall 2014. She lives in Columbus, Ohio with her husband Mike.

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