For May, National Salad Month, we pay tribute to my maternal grandfather, who so hated single-note salads, he’d make a public scene.
This forced my proper Bostonian grandmother to discreetly slip a tomato in her purse when they dined out.
She wouldn’t have to carry contraband with the new, whimsical rake-and-hoe garden salad at Barton G. in South Beach. It comprises seasonal, local greens from mache to mizuna plus shaved fennel, carrots, beets and so much more. The restaurant serves it in a miniature wheelbarrow (and charges a major $18).
More modestly priced yet equally delicious is the wild mushroom salad ($9.95) at Yuga in Coral Gables, Fla. This longtime funghi favorite features a multitude of meaty shiitakes and skinny white enoki piled atop field greens, drizzled with addictive cilantro-ginger dressing.
Is your homemade salad ho-hum? Don’t make the spirit of my grandfather come after you. Lose the supermarket bag o’ greens. Sparkling salads start with fresh farmers market greens and never end. Add:
• Seasonal everything — mango, corn, avocado, showstopping watermelon radishes, a rainbow of heirloom tomatoes.
• Texture — with meltingly tender roasted mushrooms or eggplant, creamy white beans, chewy whole grains like barley, shaved fennel, diced celery, toasted almonds and more to build dimension.
• Crunch — toasted nuts, seeds or roasted chickpeas add crunch. When all else fails, top salad with thinly sliced crostini or crumbled toasted tortillas (croutons are ’80s).
• Protein — this not a synonym for meat. Plant-based protein like beans, nuts, seeds, quinoa, tofu and tempeh take salad from slight to significant. Lacto-ovo? Top salads with grated cheese or (very French) a perfectly poached egg — the runny yolk serves as dressing.
Subtract: bottled dressing. Explore bronze and buttery pumpkin seed oil, nutty green hemp seed oil or tahini (sesame seed paste) for lusciousness. Swap balsamic for mild, fruity cider vinegar, sweet Asian mirin, fragrant sherry vinegar. Add a spoonful of miso or mustard, a squeeze of fresh citrus and a blizzard of your favorite fresh chopped herbs.
Salad comes from the Latin word meaning salted. Finish salad with a light sprinkle of sea salt for flavor pop. Don’t forget salty pickles, olives capers and … Bacos. They’re pig-free and plant-based.
Now get to it. It’s National Salad Month and the spirit of my grandfather is watching.