Sunday, July 24, 2005

Future Salad

Future Salad

Future Salad (2000)

From Food Timeline:

Food historians tell us salads (generally defined as mixed greens with dressing) were enjoyed by ancient Romans and Greeks. As time progressed, salads became more complicated. Recipes varied according to place and time. Dinner salads, as we know them today, were popular with Renaissance diners. Composed salads assembled with multiple ingredients were enjoyed in the 18th century. They were called Salmagundi. Today they are called chef's salad.

"Although the ancient Greeks and Romans did not use the world "salad," they enjoyed a variety of dishes with raw vegetables dressed with vinegar, oil, and herbs...The medical practitioners Hippocrates and Galen believed that raw vegetables easily slipped through the system and did not create obstructions for what followed, therefore they should be served first. Others reported that the vinegar in the dressing destroyed the taste of the wine, therefore they should be served last. This debate has continued ever since...With the fall of Rome, salads were less important in western Europe, although raw vegetables and fruit were eaten on fast days and as medicinal correctives...The term salade derived from the Vulgar Roman herba salata, literally 'salted herb'. It remained a feature of Byzantine cookery and reentered the European menu via medieval Spain and Renaissance Italy. At first "salad" referred to various kinds of greens pickled in vinegar or salt. The word salade later referred to fresh-cooked greens of raw vegetables prepared in the Roman manner."
---Encyclopedia of Food and Culture, Solomon H. Katz, editor and William Woys Weaver, associate editor [Charles Scribner's Sons:New York] 2003, Volume 3 (p. 224-5).

At the tail end of the 19th century (in the United States) the domestic science/home economics movement took hold. Proponnents of this new science were obsessed with control. They considered tossed plates of mixed greens "messy" and eschewed them in favor of "orderly presentations." Salad items were painstakingly separated, organized, and presented. Molded gelatin (Jell-O et. al.) salads proliferated because they offered maximum control.

"Salad greens, which did have to be served raw and crisp, demanded more complicated measures. The object of scientific salad making was to subdue the raw greens until they bore as little resemblance as possible to their natural state. If a plain green salad was called for, the experts tried to avoid simply letting a disorganized pile of leaves drop messily onto the plate...This arduous approach to salad making became an identifying feature of cooking-school cookery and the signature of a refined household...American salads traditionally had been a matter of fresh greens, chicken, or lobster, but during the decades at the turn of the century, when urban and suburban middle class was beginning to define itself, salads proliferated magnificently in number and variety until they incorporated nearly every kind of food except bread and pastry...Salads that were nothing but a heap of raw ingredients in disarray plainly lacked cultivation, and the cooking experts developed a number of ingenious ways to wrap them up...The tidiest and most thorough way to package a salad was to mold in gelatin."
---Perfection Salad: Women and Cooking at the Turn of the Century, Laura Shapiro [North Point Press:New York] 1986 (p. 96-99).
The great salad revolution began in the sixties and matured in the seventies like so many other American social upheavals. In the decade of nuts and berries, salads went natural and organic. Yogurt became a popular dressing ingredient, and salads were garnished with sesame and sunflower seeds. Many Americans were first introduced to rice and bean salads in the sixties, not to mention bulgar wheat, all of which were destined to become increasingly popular later on.


In the seventies, salad became a national obsession. Salad bars sprung up everywhere. It was politically, religiously, and socially correct to eat salad. Along with increased interest in salad came widening choices of ingredients and more variety in salad dressings. Tuned-in restaurants served salads and sandwiches bulging with alfalfa sprouts and avocados, perhaps the two ingredients most identified with seventies salads. Who didn't have an avocado pit balanced by toothpicks rooting in the kitchen window, or a water-soaked napkin nestling alfalfa or mung bean sprouts? This was before Chia pets.


The salad continued to gain status [in the eighties], taking advantage of the increasing availability of fresh produce, familiar and foreign. In the area of salad dressing, the eighties saw a new star -- Ranch, which became the undisputed favorite, akin to Thousand Island of earlier times. The appropriate cheese for salads was no longer cubes of cheddar and Swiss, but the more sophisticated feta, crumbled on. Flavored vinegars, such as raspberry, would also become popular.


Color contrast appears to be one of the most important considerations in salads at the end of the twentieth century. We saw purple asparagus, red, yellow, orange, and purple bell peppers, orange, yellow, and white tomatoes, purple endive, yellow watermelon, white eggplant, golden beets, and yellow and blue potatoes spring up in the produce department. Let your artistic imagination run wild!

After the extravagant eighties, we might not have expected any new salad greens, but the nineties introduced arugula and purslane as rediscovered treasures. And, unbelievably, the fiddlehead fern has made some brief appearances as a rare delicacy. The salad cheese of choice? Anything from a goat. And for dressings, we discovered white truffle oil near the end of the decade, eked out by the drop to flavor sauces and salads.

Perhaps the most ubiquitous and well-received new vegetables were fresh mushrooms, burgeoning far beyond the familiar white button mushrooms in the produce department into a "department" of their own with dozens of dried and fresh varieties, including shitake, crimini, chanterelles, truffles, oyster, enoki, wood ear, and portobello.

From the TimesOnline:

Et tu...Caesar?

Anyone hoping that salad is the slimming option should read the nutritional information on the McDonald’s website, which reveals that simply switching from burger to salad will not help to shed the pounds.

A chicken Caesar salad with dressing and croutons contains 425 calories and 21.4g of fat, compared with 253 calories and 7.7g of fat in a standard hamburger. Add a portion of fries to your burger and the calorie count climbs to 459, but is still less fatty than the salad at 16.7g.

Today's blog entree has less spice than yesterday's -- but also fewer calories --

-- unless you salad-size it.

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