Salads No Longer Simply A Warm-Season Side Dish

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Mom's maxim "eat your greens" is playing out in restaurants nationwide these days: Salads are increasingly being offered as entres, rather than side dishes.

Once just regulated to the spot next to the lowly dinner roll, the salad has graduated to main-dish status, welcoming all sorts of adornments, from meat, nuts, and legumes to vegetables, cheeses and fruits.

At a time when salad bars are on the wane, the idea of marrying an entre, such as pan-seared tuna, with salad greens (and we're not talking iceberg) has gained in popularity, especially with those who believe "eating lighter is eating better."

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What can make or break a salad is, of course, the dressing, as evidenced by the explosion of gourmet varieties available to supermarkets. Ginger-peppercorn-leek - honey-mustard-sesame - and so on.

The trend, it seems, started with people's ordering habits at restaurants. "I'll take the Caesar salad, please, and bring it out with everyone's entres."

"More Americans are ordering salads as a main course, and the restaurant industry is meeting that growing demand," says Joseph Fassler, chairman of the board of the National Restaurant Association, which conducted the nationwide menu survey showing salad's step-up status.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, Americans consume 40 percent more grain products and 20 percent more fruits and vegetables per capita than they did in 1970.

More than half of the main-dish salad offerings on menus last year included meat or fish; of those, chicken and shellfish were tossed most often, according to the survey. Some variation of shrimp or chicken Caesar salad, for example, appears on many mid-priced restaurants' menus.

Caesar salad remains the top main-dish salad choice, accounting for one quarter of the salad category on menus. Other popular choices are Salad Nicoise and Cobb salad.

Higher-end restaurants tend to offer more cutting-edge concoctions. Mesclun greens with goat cheese, homemade garlic croutons, fresh herbs, and toasted almonds or pine nuts topped with a raspberry vinaigrette, anyone?

This winter, don't be surprised if you see more "warm" salads, such as wilted greens and root vegetables topped with sliced duck or lamb.

And when making salads at home, no matter what greens you choose, go with the freshest possible. Mom could have told you that.

GOAT CHEESE AND ARUGULA SALAD

These bitter greens are sweetened by a balsamic dressing and the caramelized onions. Use a mesclun mix if you prefer. When broiled or baked, rounds of good creamy goat cheese puff up like little souffls.

16 small white onions

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons sugar

6 slices French bread, cut about 1/2 inch thick

2 tablespoons virgin olive oil

1 4-ounce log of creamy, semisoft goat cheese cut into 6 rounds

1 teaspoon fresh rosemary leaves, crushed, or 1/2 teaspoon dried

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, or 1/2 teaspoon dried

2 bunches arugula, washed and patted dry

Balsamic Vinaigrette (See recipe below)

In a pot of lightly salted boiling water, simmer the onions for about 7 minutes, or until tender.

Cool under running water. Carefully slip off the outer skins and pinch off the root ends; drain thoroughly.

Melt the butter in a small skillet over low heat. Add the sugar and stir until melted. Add the onions and cook, tossing constantly, until the onions are well coated and caramelized. Reserve and keep warm.

Preheat broiler. Brush one side of each slice of bread with the olive oil. Place a round of the goat cheese on each slice. Sprinkle each disk of cheese with the herbs.

Place the bread on a baking sheet and broil until the edges of the bread are golden and the cheese is puffed.

Toss the arugula or mesclun with enough vinaigrette to coat lightly. Divide between 2 plates. Place 3 slices of bread and 8 onions on each plate.

Serves 2.

VINAIGRETTE

1/4 cup good-quality balsamic or raspberry vinegar

1 teaspoon dry mustard

Salt and freshly milled black pepper, to taste

3/4 cup virgin olive oil (or a bit more, depending the acidity of the vinegar)

In a bowl, whisk together the vinegar, mustard, and salt and pepper until the salt dissolves.

Add the olive oil, slowly, in a thin drizzle, while whisking to emulsify the oil with the vinegar. Add the remaining oil in a thin stream while whisking, until the dressing is smooth and creamy.

Taste; add more oil if you wish.

Refrigerate in a covered jar.

Makes 1 cup.

- Based on a recipe from

'Salad Days,' by Christopher Idone

(Random House, 1989)

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