Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Definition, please

When I was home in Colorado over the weekend I made a “French” potato salad to serve with sausages and green beans for an easy summer supper. The salad was simple: I boiled small red potatoes until they were tender. After they cooled a bit I quartered them, let them soak up a bit of white wine, and dressed them in a mustard vinaigrette flecked with parsley. The potatoes were good, but I don’t think it was what my father expected when he heard the words “potato salad”. He asked, “What makes it a salad?” I said, “It has a dressing.” But, honestly, I wasn't really sure. I know you can make salads with grains, hearty vegetables, and delicate greens. There is chicken salad, egg salad, and tuna salad. But what makes a salad a salad? I resolved to find out.

As usual, Mark Bittman beat me to it. His column in today’s Times food section features rice salads. His first paragraph goes:

“In all of American cooking there is probably no term less meaningful than ‘salad.’ I’m racking my brain for a way to narrow the definition, but the best I can do is a dictionary-like ‘mixture of food, usually cold or at room temperature, with some kind of dressing.’”

I’ll buy that (although I love a warm potato salad). According to my Larousse Gastronomique, a salad is a “dish of raw, cold or warm cooked foods, usually dressed and seasoned, served as an appetizer, side dish or main course.” It then focuses on green salads, plain salads, and mixed salads with three and a half pages of recipes.

A fairly broad definition, wouldn't you say? But, I think that's what I like about it. Salads can be just about anything! They're kitchen superstars - versatile, healthy, delicious and flexible.

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