Q. What did the mayonnaise say to the icebox?
A. Please close the door, I'm dressing.
Seventy-three percent of all American households serve salad regularly, and that's no joke. Lettuce sales now exceed $1 billion a year. And we use 60 million gallons of salad dressing on our salads every year.
Salad is not a recent phenomena. The Babylonians started eating it 2,000 years ago. I'm sure they weren't scattering field greens with goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes. However, they were drizzling olive oil and vinegar over their wild greens. Through the centuries, we turned salad preparation into an art form.
By the early 1900s, Americans created salad dressings, mayonnaise and other condiments to dress up our salads. I'm sure nobody realized what an amazing phenomenon this would turn out to be.
I can still remember the salads my family had on the table when I was a kid growing up, including "kitchen sink salad," with so many good things piled into the bowl that the meal's entree seemed meaningless. We also were in the habit of keeping five to eight bottles of salad dressing, and each of us dressed our salad Jackson-Pollock style, with the colorful lashings of three or four different dressings.
Maybe that's why today I am a salad purist. I enjoy all sorts of greens, but prepared simply so I can taste each ingredient. I love field greens, romaine, butter lettuce, spinach and arugula. I even like to mix certain greens and throw in fresh herbs. I favor having one cheese — shaved parmesan, gogonzola or imported feta — scattered lightly over a salad.
On some salads I enjoy ripe pears or apples. Toasted pecans or walnuts have their place. A fresh grind of pepper, coarse salt and then the very best extra-virgin olive oil and a wonderful aged vinegar is my idea of a salad. A good balsamic, red wine or rice vinegar is best.
Hold the croutons, and skip the gooey, creamy guar gum-thickened dressings. They are not for real salads.
—By Chef Steve Petusevsky