I don't cook much anymore, but I can make a salad in my sleep. Anyone who has broken bread in my company has probably tasted "Mitch's Salad," which is my family's go-to recipe.
A friend of mind once said, "I think you have to like making salads," and I guess I do. You can't really rush it. Salad ingredients, in my mind, should be small and even, so the dressing coats evenly and so you don't have to go through the awkward exercise of cutting lettuce. Also, I like to get creative with ingredients -- I use whatever is handy and/or needs to be used.
The secrets to this salad are two: (1) the salt and lemon, which you ideally leave on for several minutes. This draws the juices out of the produce, and (2) a ridiculous amount of stirring, the longer the better. This is part of Salad Zen.
Mitch's Salad - A Masterpiece
Cookbooks show that this is an adaptation of the typical Lebanese salad, perfected by my father over the course of 60 years. We all make our versions of it, and they all taste different. It really depends on the particular ingredients -- which is how it should be, right?
Let agribusiness work on consistency. This is simple food.
Start with a wooden bowl - the older and more seasoned, the better. Plastic, glass, or anything else just won't work.
Mince a clove of garlic in the bottom. My dad used to pound it with the handle of the knife. You might be tempted to add more because it's a distinctive taste, but it's the thoroughness, not the amount, that counts.
Chop up very finely (like one-half-inch pieces) lettuce (I use romaine, but anything will do), green onions, celery, and tomato -- at the minimum.
Add, according to taste cucumber, black olives, toasted pine nuts, homemade croutons (the store-bought ones are too seasoned), feta chees. Tuna and canned shrimp make a meal of it.
Squeeze the juice of a lemon into and salt the entire mixture -- I use table salt, and more than I use on anything else. This will give you an idea: about 25 years ago my dad made this salad for some friends of mine. One of them pulled me aside and said, "I don't think your dad could see how much salt he was putting in." That has turned into one of our family stories -- he knew exactly how much salt he used.
Now stir, and keep stirring with a big spoon. Add some ground pepper. Work with the salad and/or let it sit for at least five minutes, more if you can spare it. You'll see liquid start to form in the bottom. That's the stuff!
Drizzle olive oil -- not too much. I use plain old olive oil, which is getting harder and harder to find -- I don't know what the deal is with the EVOO craze. The point is, you're just smoothing out the acidity of the lemon and salt.
I can't even describe how lovely this salad is as a leftover. I put it on sandwiches and on crackers, too.
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Designer Paule Hewlett takes on design, culture and modern life.
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"Life is too short for ugly dish towels. Really, ugly anything."