1. Polenta Croutons
I’m a big fan of Facebook food porn. As soon as I saw friends at the famous FnB in Scottsdale, Arizona post about polenta croutons, it was mere hours before I’d made my own. They are 3% of heaven. Add them to any regular salad, but my current favorite implementation is a Panzanella.
FYI, I have never, ever bought polenta. It's extra fine cornmeal. I buy cornmeal. Make polenta a bit thicker than usual, and pour into well-oiled pan, cover and refrigerate. Once it's cold and firm, use a knife or pizza roller to cut into squares.
Place squares on a lined cookie sheet at 400 for 20-30 minutes or until golden brown and toasty. Toss with large chopped tomatoes, whole basil leaves and good-sized pieces of mozzarella, with a splash of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I make everything but the croutons a few hours before and let it all marinate together in the bowl on the counter, toss polenta croutons in last minute. The polenta will cause the mozz to melt a bit which is great.
2. Candied Nuts
Heh. She said “nuts”. I love throwing cashews or almonds into salads as both extra crunch and protein. Candied pecans or walnuts don’t pack the same healthy kick, but are so delicious that you’ll find yourself hunting them down in your kitchen at 2am, cursing me for introducing you to them. Pick ‘em up at Trader Joe’s if you don’t feel like DIYing.
Buy shelled walnuts halves. Make an egg wash by whisking one egg white together with ¼ cup of water. In a Ziploc or brown bag, toss ¼ cup white sugar, ¼ cup brown sugar, 1 tsp cinnamon, ½ tsp nutmeg, and a pinch of salt. Dip a walnut in the egg wash, toss in bag, close top and shake. Place walnuts on tin foil or parchment lined baking sheet, not touching. Bake at 170 degrees for 2 hours.
Sweet and Spicy Pecans
Buy shelled pecan halves. Make an egg wash by whisking one egg white together with ¼ cup of water. In a Ziploc, add ½ cup brown sugar, 1 tsp of paprika, 1 tsp of cayenne, and 1 tsp of salt. Dip a pecan in the egg wash, toss in bag, close top and shake. Place walnuts on tin foil or parchment lined baking sheet, not touching. Bake at 170 degrees for 2 hours.
My best friend lived in Italy for years and whenever I visited I noticed salads were dressed with nothing more than olive oil and a bit of salt and pepper. Regardless of the salad, I rarely do more than that- sometimes adding in a tiny splash of lemon or vinegar or fruit or veggies. My days of ranch or thousand island are quite over, and I would seriously rather fall over then add mayo to anything. Salads taste fresher with a simple dressing and since we’re in summer, they’ll be safer at the BBQ. Consider these KISS alternatives:
Mush a few berries (I like raspberries best) in a bowl with a bit of vinegar. Doesn’t matter what kind and mix together. Doesn’t need to be smooth. Add cracked pepper and a bit of walnut or olive oil.
Mash ½ a ripe avocado in a bowl with sesame oil, add a splash of balsamic vinegar. Add sesame seeds if you’re feeling jaunty.
Use a fork to whisk an egg yolk together with a steady stream of olive oil. This creates an emulsion. Add salt and pepper and if you care to, anchovies or anchovy paste for a bit of umami. You could just keep going with mustard, Worcestershire and garlic to achieve “The Full Caesar”, but I find this is enough.
4. Fried Egg
If you’re undressing, you can jazz your salad back up by adding a fried egg on top. Also: way to wow the guests. Slice in before you eat and the gooey yellow yolk will dress your salad. Even a super simple house salad is supercharged this way.
Brighter Than the Sun Salad
Roast one head of garlic (slice top off without peeling, drizzle with olive oil, wrap in tin foil, bake 45 minutes or until you feel intense need to tear door off of oven due to delicious smells). Allow to cool, then pop the cloves out, Toss in bowl with butter or romaine lettuce, in bite size pieces. Some thinly sliced mushrooms would be great, and this salad requires croutons to achieve its greatness. Big, toasty ones. Toss together, plate, then slide one over-easy egg on top. Die of happiness.
Fuck bacon. Viva les lardons! (Okay, it's just bacon, but French bacon just *sounds* better, c’est non?) Instead of doing bacon bits, grab some thicker bacon or pancetta and fry until super crispy. You don’t need many and really, what salad isn’t better with bacon, but in the right salad, lardons will sing you a song then throw down the mic and walk out.
Frissee with lardons
Toss clean frisee lettuce in bowl with one soft-boiled egg quartered. Add croutons and sliced green onions. Toss with the Uncaesar dressing from above.
6. Ditch the Lettuce
No matter how much my salad is tossed (heh), the good shit is always at the bottom of the bowl. Sometimes I think it's just better to ditch the lettuce altogether and just eat the stuff we really want anyways. A cucumber and mint salad is a great example. Or.... mix it up and go with fennel as a lettuce replacement, or endive (fancy albino lettuce) or radicchio or frisee. If you can find mild leeks, I love using those as a base, or quinoa or couscous. So. Many. Options.
Cucumber, Mint, Pine Nuts and Feta Salad
Peel cucumbers, and run spoon down the middle to take the seeds out. Now chop cukes into bite size. Wash and chop mint (to get fancy, stack a slew of leaves on top of each other, roll into tight cigar, and cut slices of cigar for a chiffonade of mint). Toss in pine nuts and crumbled feta. Toss with olive oil, lemon and salt/pepper. Delicious.
Balsamic Chicken and Endive Salad
Toss skinless chicken breasts of thighs (thighs don’t dry out) in a Ziploc with balsamic vinegar and refrigerate overnight. Grill, panfry, broil or just yell derogatory remarks at chicken until it cooks itself. Slice. Carefully pull off endive leaves one at a time and wash, dry. Rough chop into bite size pieces. Toss into bowl w chicken. Add diced red onion, chopped red onion and whole basil leaves. Some mozzarella would not suck. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper.
7. Toasted Goat Cheese
My dad, a phenomenal, if messy, chef, used to make a super schmancy salad for dinner parties with these goat cheese medallions. They are like little clouds of heaven.
Toasted Goat Cheese
Buy chevre and slice into a ¾” round. Cover on all sides in breadcrumbs. Drizzle with olive oil, throw under broiler on low and allow to toast until brown for a few minutes. Slide onto center of salad and enjoy tangy salad orgasm.
8. Grill your salad
I lived for 30 years in Arizona. We used any excuse to avoid our oven. I once cooked a 5-layer cake for 200 people on a grill, so I’m an advocate of grilling ALL. THE. THINGS. I like to braise greens and salad fixings on the grill, get some nice char/grill marks and toss them in a bowl. Delicious! Some of those bitter greens like radicchio and endive and fennel are just amazingly transformed when grilled.