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The Cross and the Cleaver: Is Salad Food?

Well, to quote the late John Pinette: “Salad ain’t food. Salad is a promissory note that food will soon arrive.” Which of course makes sense if the salad before the main meal is part of your cultural/food whatsit.

Let me tell you a story.

It was January or February 1994. Along with other, relatively recent, Polish arrivals to Canada we were staying at Ptarmigan Inn in Banff. It was a winter break ski trip. Most enjoyable … until few of us decided to go for dinner to someplace ore upscale than your everyday fast-food place. The waiter took our orders, and shortly after… the sala arrived. It looked nice. After about 5 min the waiter, hovering around, asked if everything was OK to which we replied in affirmative. He came twice more, asking the same question. Finally, with whatever English I possessed at the time I asked what is wrong. He replied that we have not eaten our salad. To which I retorted that is because he has not brough us our dinner yet. He clarified he will not be bringing us dinner until we eat our salad. I do not remember which side won the argument. But we did get our dinner … eventually.

Situation echoed the sentiment expressed by Pink Floyd: “If you don’t eat your meat, you can’t have any pudding!” (ending of “Another Brick in the Wall Part Two” from the album “The Wall”). Apparently in Canada, at least then – if you don’t eat your salad, you can’t have any meat.

I love salads. The ones made from fresh, seasonal, freshly garden picked ingredients; and those made from bag of frozen beans. I will never pass the “commercial” Caesar salad with already slightly wilted lettuce, like the last serving from the bottom of the bowl at the end of the church fall-supper. There are generic salads, shortcut salads and salads that take hours to prepare. Salads are often paired with the rest of the dinner – ethnically, seasonally or by contrasting flavours and textures. They go well before dinner, with the dinner and on their own as midday (or midnight) snacks. Let me share with you a few of my favourites.

1) My mum used to make it. It is called “Chinese salad”, and it has absolutely nothing to do with China.

One head of butter lettuce ripped or chopped into mid-size chunks. Toss in a small can of corn kernels. Dress with a glug of olive oil, generous squirt of lemon juice, then sprinkle with a heaping spoon of sugar. Toss and serve before the sugar has dissolved and is still crunchy.

2) This is my childhood fave!

1 large (or 2 med-size) tomatoes, sliced. Top up with a very finely chopped onion of your preferred variety. Drizzle with vinegar.

3) My wife’s three-cans-plus-jar-summer-salad (it is delicious!!!)

1 can of each – corn (drained), black beans and red kidney beans (both drained and rinsed). Mix with a jar of your favourite salsa, and garnish with chopped cilantro if you like. Add a splash of cider vinegar and oil to give it a lift. Eat it straight out of the bowl, wrap it in tortilla or even lettuce leaves. Works like magic with roast pork!

4) One of a few Polish classics.

Drain 1 can or jar of plain sauerkraut. If too sour for your taste, give it a quick rinse. Squeeze out the excess liquid. Toss with a spoonful or two of oil and one very finely shredded carrot. Season with pepper and let sit for 30-60 minutes. Serve at room temperature with fried chicken or grilled pork-chops.

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