The Salad

by Mary Bailey

The tossed salad is a thing of beauty — refreshing, crunchy, wholesome—the dieter’s delight (never mind that a restaurant Caesar salad can have more calories than a steak sandwich). The variations on a theme can be endless and a way to get those several servings of veg we’re all supposed to eat. A wine pal mixes greens, chopped red onion, and goat cheese with sliced strawberries and candied pecans. Another friend makes a salad of grated carrot, beet, and celery arranged in colourful stripes on greens, so pretty and travels to potlucks so well. Midsummer, I’ll make a salad from nothing but one of Sparrow Organics’ lettuces dressed with salt, pepper and a bit of extra-virgin olive oil. The lettuce, shockingly fresh and earthy, needs nothing else.

The best salads start with a great dressing, but it doesn’t have to be complicated or chock full of ingredients. What’s in the dressing needs to be of best quality though. Start with a good olive oil. Yup, the plus $20 kind; and think of it as a variation on the old cost-per-wearing theory. If you use two tablespoons of delicious fruity, spicy, extra-virgin olive oil on your salad to feed four people, you have spent approximately a dollar. Worth it, don’t you think? You can use grape seed oil, walnut or cold-pressed canola, but those have specific flavours that generally go best on certain salads. Extra-virgin olive oil is your go-to oil for your everyday summer salad.

My method for basic vinaigrette: one part acid (lemon juice, wine vinegar) to three parts oil. Try making your dressing in the bowl first, rather than a jar or squeeze bottle. I start with a ó lemon or lime squeezed into a mixing bowl. I add about a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. I whisk, and if the proportions are right, it will be thick and opaque. If not, I taste for more oil or more lemon. Then I season generously with sea salt and fresh cracked pepper. Hold back on the salt a bit if you are using a lot of cheese or other salty ingredients in the salad. But, if you are having plain greens the salt becomes the flavour counterpoint. It’s simple, easy, and you’ll never have half-full jars of leftover salad dressing in the fridge. Only one bowl gets dirty and you have to toss the salad anyway. You rarely overdo the dressing either, each leaf gets coated thoroughly and well. I also use regular metal kitchen tongs to toss. Go figure, works for me and there’s less flying lettuce.

The salad composée (compound salad) is the company version of the tossed salad. It gives you a chance to showcase an ingredient—a round of goat cheese let’s say, or a grilled steak, or a few choice slices of dead-ripe heirloom tomato. It’s a handy serving style with large heavy ingredients which tend to sink to the bottom of a tossed salad. Or for things like beets, that bleed colour, or when you are mixing hot and cold (separate but together is the aim here). But mainly it looks pretty, which helps the salad be as much a feast for the eyes as the palate.

Here’s hoping for plenty of salad days this summer—long and hot when all we really want is a refreshing glass of cool wine and a plate of salad, tossed or composed.

hungarian cucumber salad

There’s nothing better than cucumber on one of the few hot days we have every summer. I prefer to leave the skins on for colour and crunch, but peel if you like.

3 very fresh cucumbers
sea or kosher salt
1 red onion, sliced thin
2 T white vinegar (yup, white vinegar)
2 t water (about)
sea salt and fresh-cracked black pepper
paprika to taste (your choice—sweet, hot or smoked)

Slice cucumbers into very thin rounds. Sprinkle liberally with salt and let stand 15 minutes. Squeeze out liquid from the cucumbers. Toss onion with the cucumbers. Season to taste and add vinegar and water to just cover. Sprinkle paprika generously on top.

Serves 4–6 as a side dish.

watermelon and black olive salad with fennel

A recipe in Todd English’s first cookbook, Olives, was my introduction to the toothsome combo of black olive
and watermelon. The key is to have everything about the same size; olives, watermelon cubes, chunks of feta as it
looks pretty and gives to each mouthful the sweet/salty/sour hit of flavour that makes this salad quite irresistible.

juice of half a lemon
1-3 T extra virgin olive oil
1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
salt and pepper, to taste
12 (or so) pitted kalamata olives, chopped in half
½ red onion, thinly sliced
1 scallion, thinly sliced
1½ c feta cheese, crumbled
4 c cubed watermelon

Squeeze lemon into a large mixing bowl. Drizzle in extra virgin olive oil, whisk to emulsify (the mixture becomes thick and opaque). Test for balance and add either more oil or more lemon juice then season using less salt than usual as you will be adding salty ingredients. Place everything else but the watermelon cubes in the bowl. Toss until well mixed. Add watermelon and toss gently. Serves 4–6.

warm beef with cilantro dressing

This Asian inspired beef salad makes a terrific take-to-work lunch as it’s good hot or cold. It’s a great way to use up leftover steak from a barbecue the night before.

cilantro dressing

1 lg bunch cilantro
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 long green chile, chopped fine, seeds removed
1 t fresh-squeezed lime juice
1 t rice wine
2 T canola oil
1 T sesame oil (optional)
1 T panko crumbs
sea-salt and cracked black pepper

Process all ingredients in a food processor for 2-3 minutes or until smooth. Reserve or chill in the refrigerator if not using right away.


1 flank or sirloin steak, trimmed
1 T canola oil
½ t hili flakes
sea salt and fresh-cracked black pepper
3 green onions, thinly sliced
1 c snow peas or fresh green beans, trimmed and blanched
1 bunch fresh carrots, julienned
1 bunch spinach leaves or Bibb type lettuce

Brush the beef with the oil and sprinkle with the chili flakes, salt and pepper. Preheat grill (or preheat a pan over high heat). Add the beef and cook for 4?5 minutes each side, to medium rare (or as you like it). Let meat rest for about 5 minutes, then slice into thin strips. Place in a large bowl with the vegetables along with any accumulated juices and toss to combine. Divide the salad between four plates and drizzle with the cilantro dressing to serve. Serves 4.

strawberry and blueberry salad with parma ham

An episode of Bitchin’ Kitchen inspired this salad. Nadia Giosia used pomegranate seeds and Mshalal. cheese, a salty stringy Middle Eastern cheese. We’ll use either feta cheese or silky Parma ham as the salty counterpoint to the fresh berries, so good in the summer.

4 T extra virgin olive oil
juice of ½ lemon (approx 2T)
fresh-cracked black pepper
pinch brown sugar
handful fresh mint, chopped
1 c fresh blueberries
1 c ripe strawberries (small whole berries work best) or ½ cup feta cheese, crumbled or manourie (a soft slightly sweet less salty Greek cheese) if using the Parma ham.
4-6 slices Parma ham (or Serrano) sliced (optional)

Place oil and lemon juice with the pepper and sugar in the bottom of a big bowl and whisk to emulsify. Put in mint, berries and cheese. Toss gently. Place the fruit salad in a large bowl or arrange on 4-6 plates. Place Parma ham attractively on top.

Variation: use balsamic vinegar in place of the lemon juice.

peach and blackberry salad with herbs and ricotta

Make this salad with the drippiest, ripest peaches you can find. Ditto the blackberries.

1 t honey
juice ½ small lime or lemon
1 sml bunch mint chopped fine
1 sprig thyme, leaves only chopped fine
2 leaves rosemary, chopped fine
1 pkg fresh ricotta (wetter preferred over dry)
2-3 BC peaches, sliced
1 c blackberries

Mix the honey, citrus juice and herbs with the ricotta. The idea is to have pieces of ricotta, rather than a smooth spread.

Place in a bowl with the fruit. Toss gently so the ricotta stays fairly chunky. Garnish with more fresh mint leaves.

vietnamese spot prawn salad

Mid-summer is BC spot prawn season. Medium sized and slightly sweet, these as-local-as-we’re-going-to-get shrimp are complemented by the sweet/hot flavours of the dressing. Steam or grill the shrimp, either way they will be delicious.

vietnamese dressing

2 cloves garlic, minced
2 fresh long red chiles, seeded and finely diced or julienned
2 T finely minced fresh ginger
4 T fish sauce (nam pla)*
juice of one lime, plus more for drizzling if desired.
2 T water
1 T sugar
2 t peanut or canola oil

Mix all ingredients together and reserve. Will keep one week in the refrigerator


½ c Vietnamese dressing (recipe above)
24 spot prawns, cooked
1 t sesame oil
1 sml pkg glass noodles
1 c sugar snap peas or snow peas
½ c bean sprouts
3 scallions
½ c finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
½ c chopped peanuts (optional)
boiling water

Marinate the shrimp in the dressing. Meanwhile, soak the noodles in boiling water according to packet instructions. Once re-hydrated, refresh the noodles in cold water, then drain and cover. Put the sugar snaps and bean sprouts into a colander and cover with boiling water. Rinse with cold water to refresh. Drain well.

Fold marinated shrimp in with the drained noodles, scallions, peas and bean sprouts. Dress to taste. Sprinkle chopped cilantro and toss well before placing on a large plate or on four smaller plates.

Sprinkle with peanuts if desired, and drizzle with more lime juice. Serves 4–6.

* Fish sauce, called nam pla, nuoc nam, or patis, can be found in any Chinatown (97 street) grocery store or at T&T supermarkets.

go withs

A handful of candied bacon or nuts or large crunchy/soft rustic croutons are delightful additions to a salad.

candied bacon

12 slices bacon, about 1/4-inch thick
fresh-cracked black pepper
1/3 c light brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 325.F.

Put bacon slices in a bowl, season them with pepper and toss with the brown sugar. Line a baking sheet with parchment or foil and arrange the bacon in a single layer. Sprinkle any sugar left in the bowl over the bacon. Top with another layer of parchment or foil and top it, squarely, with another baking sheet. This will keep the bacon flat as it cooks.

Place the tray in the center of the oven and bake until bacon is dark golden brown and fairly crispy, about 20 minutes. The bacon will crisp more after you take it out of the oven. Leave in strips to top salads or crumble to toss with.

candied pecans

2 T butter
½ c pecan halves
2T packed light brown sugar

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pecans and cook, stirring, until golden brown and toasted, about 5 minutes. Add sugar and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Transfer to a piece of waxed paper to cool.

Variation: Add cayenne pepper or use walnuts. Blanch the walnuts in boiling water for about 5 minutes first.

Store at room temperature.

Rustic Croutons

The addition of these, along with some meat or cheese can turn a simple tossed salad into a meal. Your best bets for these large chewy/crunchy croutons is a bread with texture and an airy crumb, such as baguette, ciabatta, or focaccia. Day (or several days) old is most suitable. Use great quality oil, don’t overbake and your results are guaranteed.

Leftover rustic-style bread
extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and fresh-cracked pepper.

Preheat the oven to 350.F

Cut the bread into fairly large cubes, about . inch. Place in a bowl and drizzle oil over. Use a generous amount of oil, but don’t soak the croutons. Season, adding a bit of lemon juice or fresh herbs if the salad calls for it.

Place croutons on a baking sheet and bake for 6-12 minutes until turning brown.

Serve immediately or within a few days