By: Elizabeth Webber Akre
I have an awesome cookbook with an awesome title: How to Cook Without a Book. Isn’t that great? The premise of this book is to teach some basic techniques and basic dishes that one can learn by heart and then embellish them any which way. I still pull the book out to remind myself of the wisdom contained therein, but also to refresh my repertoire. The author’s frittata recipes make fantastic dinners for busy weeknights. Just recently, I flipped back through the salad section and I’m so glad that I took the time to do so.
I love salad. I could live off of it. I love that feeling of being in the middle of the meal and thinking to myself, “Wow, this is a really great salad.” But it can be difficult to find a good salad. How many times have you ordered one only to find that whoever was on salad duty that day either has no concept of what it’s like to eat a salad, or they think that people really enjoy trying to stuff a piece of romaine the size of Texas into their mouths? Or, you get the lettuce that was chopped up with a chain saw. And then there’s the iceberg. There is a time and place for iceberg lettuce. But, when you’re charging your customers over $10 for a salad, the iceberg ought to be at a minimum. For salad lovers like me, the salad maker needs to be on their toes and craft that baby with care.
So as I was flipping through my copy of How to Cook Without a Book, a simple salad pearl of wisdom leapt off the page. It’s all so simple! Toss your lettuces with just enough olive oil to coat the leaves evenly. Then, add any toppings and then some acid and toss it all again. That’s it. Now, I know you’re reading this and thinking “What? That’s it? That’s all you have to tell me?” But, trust me. It’s so simple that it’s brilliant. On this occasion, I used very thinly sliced apples, crumbled Gorgonzola and a mixture of lemon juice and apple cider vinegar. And there it was. The “OMG this is a really good salad” feeling. It’s funny how easy it is to forget that an easy, basic combination like olive oil and lemon can taste so remarkable. The sweetness and crispness of the apple was in perfect balance with the saltiness of the Gorgonzola. The only reason we haven’t been eating this salad every night is that I’m using restraint. I’m afraid of overdoing it and burning out on this combo. It was that good. Since I had the book open, I paired the salad with a frittata that I made with onion and bacon, since I had those ingredients on hand.
And of course, one way to judge the merits of the meal is to look to the children. Granted, my daughter has a strong sense of adventure and is an open-minded eater, but she loved this dinner. I was delighted to see her eat the frittata, which is basically an omelet puffed in the oven, because I can’t get her to try an omelet. I think she doesn’t like the way the word ‘omelet’ sounds. And, like a lot of kids, her salad consumption can be hit or miss. However, this ridiculously simple salad was a hit with her! If cooking seems like a chore to you, seek out this book. It will help a lot.