Most of us think of a salad as leafy greens with tomatoes and a dressing. But a salad can be any combination of vegetables—and doesn’t need to include greens. There are also tuna salads, chicken salads, macaroni salads, rice salads, fruit salads, and gelatin salads.
A salad, really, is just a cold dish of chopped-up ingredients. They’re usually savory, but can be sweet, as in a fruit salad. The word itself has little to do with lettuce. Instead, it comes from salt—originating from the Latin sal or saltare (to salt, a verb). The Latin term gave rise to the French salade and the Portuguese salada. The English borrowed the word as well as the dish from the French.
In the beginning, salad consisted of greens and other vegetables pickled with salt. In ancient Greece and Rome, a salad came to mean raw vegetables dressed with oil, vinegar, salt and herbs.
From Rome, the custom of eating raw dressed vegetables traveled to France. Francois Rabelais (1490-1553) mentioned a long list of salads made with various vegetables, including cress, chervil and asparagus. King Louis XIV (1638-1715) is reported to have eaten “a prodigious quantity of salad all the year round” (Maguelonne Toussaint-Samatin, History of Food, 1992). The same author finds that salads were thought to be “moistening and refreshing” and were said to “liberate the stomach, promote sleep and appetite, temper the ardors of Venus and quench the thirst.”
The French developed many types of salads, including salads made with cooked vegetables as well as raw. Salade andalouse is a rice salad made with cooked rice and seasoned with salt, paprika and vinegar. A French vegetable salad is salade de legumes.
Salade Parisienne is made with vegetables, truffles and lobster or crayfish and dressed with mayonnaise. And salade Nicoise, probably better known, is a potato salad with eggs, green beans, olives, capers, tomatoes and anchovies, dressed in a light vinaigrette.
Salad became popular in England, too. The first salad book published in England was John Evelyn’s Acetaria (1699). His salads were made with roots, stalks, leaves and flower buds, but not with fruit or meat.
By the 17th and 18th centuries, salads fell into disfavor. The medical establishment of that time considered raw fruits and vegetables unhealthy and blamed them for causing sickness. Occasionally, cooked vegetable or poultry salads were served. By the mid-19th century, the health professionals reversed their opinion and raw vegetables were considered healthy once again. Emma Ewing’s cookbook Salad and Salad Making (1883) was the first known American cookbook solely dedicated to salads. Molded gelatin or aspic salads were invented around this time. A variety of greens and raw vegetables were used. The lettuce and tomato salad so common today was made popular by Fannie Farmer at her Boston cooking school in the 1890s.
Vegetables are nature’s most perfect and most abundant foods. They’re rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber and important enzymes. However, because of our modern diet of over-processed food, many people lack the digestive enzymes needed to absorb raw vegetables. The result is digestive distress like gas, bloating and abdominal pain. Eating cultured vegetables and yogurt can help restore the intestinal enzymes needed for proper digestion.
Modern agricultural methods, like using chemical fertilizers, produce vegetables inferior in nutritional quality to those our grandparents ate. In addition, nutrients and flavor begin to diminish as soon as vegetables are harvested, so transport and storage reduce nutritional quality. It’s important to obtain fresh, organic, local produce when it’s available.
Brocolini and Tomato Salad
1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 or 2 Tablespoons fresh basil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 clove garlic
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 bunch broccolini or broccoli
3 large tomatoes
1 sweet onion or 1 bunch scallions
Crush garlic with salt. Combine with oil, basil, and vinegar. Dice tomatoes, broccolini and onions and toss in the dressing.
Spinach and Beet Salad
1 clove garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon maple syrup or honey
1 bunch fresh baby spinach, washed
1 small beet, peeled and shredded
1 sweet onion, peeled and diced
1 apple, washed, cored and diced
Crush garlic with salt. Combine with oil, cider vinegar and maple syrup. Toss in spinach, and toss to coat. Add beets, onion and apple and stir to combine.