Nothing gets my creative gears rolling like a superb salad. A great salad is balanced — sweet, salty, crunchy, fresh, often with something a little special thrown on top. Salads like this generally take some work to prepare, so I am always scouting restaurant menus for delicious salads that someone else will make for me. And then, quite predictably, I want to go and recreate them at home. Does this happen to you? And if so, what's your Holy Grail of salad recreations?
Two salads come to mind immediately when I think about this topic. One is a feather-light flurry of arugula and radicchio, studded with flakes of Parmesan and tiny fried onions, at a restaurant nearby. The idea is simple enough, but the execution always evades me. There's a delicate lightness to the greens that eludes me and my knife.
Another is a salad I had at James in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn — a salad with small bits of fried cheese. I haven't even begun to try recreating this one yet, but I dream about it.
Other salads I've loved and attempted at home: the perfect peanut and cabbage slaw (my version, not so perfect, but approaching acceptability), and a bountiful mix of greens, chicken, goat cheese, almonds, and dates. I often crave Italian pizzeria-style iceberg salads, so I made my own version.
A truly good salad is a balanced, inspired work of art, and I learn more about salads than nearly any other sort of dish when eating out — perhaps because salads can be deconstructed much more deliberately and easily?
What about you? Do you lust after salads you ate just once (or many times), striving to recreate them at home?
(Images: Faith Durand; Leela Cyd Ross)