Salads are rarely memorable, and their place in the meal usually passes barely noticed. Yet a good salad is a wonderful dish, and it deserves as much care in preparation as anything else. Forget the idea that you can just toss a hodgepodge of ingredients with a dressing and then call it a day. If you want to make a salad memorable, here are some tips:
* Sort the greens scrupulously and discard blemished, yellowed, limp or wilted leaves.
* All raw ingredients should be rinsed under cold running water.
* All rinsed greens must be dried. Salad dressings won't adhere to wet leaves. Pat them dry with paper or cloth towels, or use a salad spinner. This works just like the spin cycle on your washing machine.
* Store washed greens in the refrigerator in a plastic bag along with a damp paper towel.
* Vary your salads by using different greens, either by themselves or in combination. Try small spinach leaves, watercress and red oak leaf, and some fresh herbs, too, such as basil or fennel.
* Don't put the dressing on the salad until you are ready to serve it, unless you're making a salad of cooked ingredients, in which case the dressing should be added early enough that it has a chance to penetrate the salad and fully flavor it.
* Remember, your best tool when cooking is to taste everything as you are making a recipe and taste critically. Trust your palate.
The range of salad possibilities is almost endless. Here I'm adding one unusual, very old-fashioned salad dressing, from Helen Evans Brown's classic "West Coast Cookbook" (Little, Brown, 1952). Hawaiian Dressing dates from that long-ago era, before the advent of commercial salad dressings, when everyone cooked their own creamy-style dressing.
Active Work and Total Preparation Time: 10 minutes
This is very good on sliced or cubed tropical fruits such as mangoes or pineapples, or even on pears. It only takes a couple of minutes, but you do have to be careful not to overcook it, so don't answer the telephone while you're making it.
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup pineapple juice
1/2 cup oil
1/4 cup white wine or cider vinegar
* Put sugar, salt, dry mustard and cornstarch in small saucepan. Add pineapple juice, oil and vinegar and stir to blend thoroughly.
* Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with whisk or spoon. In a couple of minutes, dressing will become slightly thickened. Watch carefully: As soon as mixture thickens and changes from cloudy to translucent, remove from heat. If overcooked, mixture will separate and become lumpy. Cool completely before using.
1 1/4 cups. Each tablespoon: 64 calories; 59 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 6 grams fat; 4 grams carbohydrates; 0 protein; 0.01 gram fiber.