To bring a salad into someone's home is a deeply personal act. As a home cook expressing yourself through the medium of the bowl, you reveal your palate for life. The careful marriage of colors, textures, food groups and tastes is an intimate creativity, and one most often kept to the home.
Within a family, women are identified through their craft. My grandmother's salads almost never involve greens. As a home cook in the 1950's, she conjured up potato salads, three layer aspic salads, mushroom salads, and cranberry pecan salads. They were the recipes of a generation that grew up in the hungry shadow of the Depression, and they hold little interest in the watery crunch of a leafy green.
My mother's salads are meals. She swaddles the bottom of a wide, flat wooden bowl with mustard greens, kale, spinach, and romaine and then makes her way up, layer by layer. In go green beans, sugar snaps, radishes, and carrots, followed by crumbled cheese, homemade croutons, and a thinly sliced steak. By the time you've eaten a plate, there's no need for a second course.
We're still waiting to see what my sister's salads develop into. They are certainly green, with a fair amount of substance on top, and perhaps a tendency to replacing dressings with cottage cheese. As she is still in her first month as an independent dweller, only time will unearth the final shape.
My salads are leftovers. As a friend once put it, "throw it on lettuce, and call it dinner." Today I started with a handful of spicy mixed greens from the farmers' market. The next layer was beets, pre-cooked and sliced into magenta spades that bled out across the bottom of the refrigerator in a fragile glass bowl. A sauté of scallion greens, celery leaf, and egg white graced the head of the heap, with two steaming squid tendrils, a spoonful of soldier beans, and a dollop of homemade yogurt balanced on top. With a dash of salt and pepper, the mixture morphed into my signature salad: lots of flavors, plenty of texture, and so much tasty juice that it hardly requires dressing.
While I'm sure you have you're own version, here's a recipe for mine.
BLEEDING SPADE SALAD
Arrange one handful of varied greens in the center of a plate. In a skillet, sauté 1 cup chopped scallion greens and 1 sprig celery leaf in 1 tablespoon butter. After a minute or two, add 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1 egg white. Cook until egg white is just firm; spread over top of greens. Cut one medium sized beet lengthwise into four spades; arrange in a circle leaning into center of greens. Behead and sauté 2 squid tendrils with 1/4 cup soldier beans and 1/2 tablespoon butter; place in salad center over 1 tablespoon Greek yogurt. Season with salt and pepper, and enjoy immediately. Vary with the season and as the contents of your refrigerator change.