I grew up during the time when salad meant iceberg lettuce with perhaps a tomato and that nasty orange bottled French dressing. These experiences with salad were not inspiring. My horizons seriously needed to expand. And so they have.
About seven months ago I had some dental work done – a temporary bonding that was only supposed to last for a few weeks. My dentist told me not to eat anything that would require biting into it with my front teeth and then tugging, which pretty much put sandwiches out of bounds. Pizza, too, was out, unless I ate it with a knife and fork (which I know is hoity-toity) or got the kind with thin crust cut into little squares, if they were small enough that I could cram them into my mouth whole, which I only do at home. I felt bereft when I realized I could no longer go to Red Robin and chow down on their excellent burgers. It would keep my smile intact but reduce my smiling.
My husband has been very supportive of this change in eating habits and he has convinced me to discover the wonder that is salad. I have been learning a lot about them.
I’ve learned that I can still go to Red Robin. In addition to their open-faced chili burger, they have an incredible Cobb salad so bounteous that I can eat it for over an hour. And they’ll substitute the blue cheese with some other kind if I ask them to, which I do. (I don’t like cheese that reminds me it is made from mold.) It’s not as soul-satisfying as their Guacamole Bacon Burger, but it’s a fine meal nonetheless.
In an effort to get me to eat more “rabbit food,” my husband often brings home salad kits. (I know they’re more expensive and occasionally less sanitary than homemade salads, but honestly, we can’t keep a whole head of lettuce in our fridge without it turning slimy.) Through these, I have learned the superiority of romaine and spinach over iceberg and the variety of dressings besides French. I even invented my own coleslaw dressing, involving Miracle Whip and pickle juice, which makes a refreshingly different alternative to bottled dressings.
Then there are the protein salads – tuna, chicken, and egg. I know ham salad should be in there as well, but I’ve never really cared for it. Then again, I always hated egg salad until my husband made it for me. Egg salad was always mushy slop until Dan got hold of it. He leaves the eggs chunky, which much improves the texture. And I’ve learned that dressing up tuna salad with celery and relish and chicken salad with apple chunks or grapes are ways to freshen up old favorites.
Dan also buys me little individual salads so I can try really different combinations of greens, toppings, and dressings in hopes of finding new elements that I like. Sriracha mayo, miso, or avocado dressings. Chia seeds, quinoa sprinkles, or edamame. Spring mix or thinly julienned broccoli. Blueberries and pecans as garnishes. They enliven my salads, even if they’re not things I’m likely to have on hand. My husband offers salads as snacks, lunches, or side dishes, so I get the idea that they are no longer just the least interesting part of dinner anymore.
During this experiment, I’ve learned quite a bit about what I don’t want near my salads, too. Raw onions, for example. Olives. Banana peppers. If I encounter any of these, I simply pass them off to my husband, who is well known for eating anything. (He even taught himself to like okra, for what reason I don’t even pretend to know. But I digress.)
Do I miss sandwiches? Of course. But many of them I can eat with a knife and fork if I don’t mind looking odd. I had a club melt the other day that cooperated nicely, though I can’t imagine a traditional club sandwich doing likewise. And I’ve always loved soups and fruit and cheese, so there are plenty of things I can eat gracefully – or as gracefully as it’s possible for me to eat.
There’s another thing I’ve learned during my dental and culinary experience, though. I hate kale. I don’t care if it’s a super-food (which I don’t believe in anyway). I don’t want it in a smoothie or a salad. In fact, I don’t want it anywhere near me.
Give me spinach instead, any day.