Life On the Other Side: Salad Days

It’s hot. And it’s going to become more so. Summertime has arrived in Israel, and it means only one thing – Get Away from the Stove! These are not days for heavy-duty cooking, and I for one have no intention of spending hours in the kitchen. I say, “Bring on the veggies and let the salad reign!”

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying salads are the easiest cuisine to prepare. There are salads whose compositions are so complicated that a dressed rack of lamb and asparagus risotto looks like an elementary school project in comparison. Nor does salad mean inexpensive either. Check out the price of imported balsamic vinegar and authentic walnut oil and you’ll faint.

Salads have become big business. Let’s face it – a few years ago did you know what arugula or Belgian endive was? Had you heard the phrase “constructed salad?” I remember when “salad” meant tossing some iceberg lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers together with bottled Italian dressing and voila – salad! In the old days, salads were served with the meat and potatoes, not as a substitute for them. Nowadays salads are the main course. Restaurants specialize in salads. There’s the salad bar at your local restaurant, the take-home, ready-made salad at your local supermarket and, if you happen to be in New York, a salad waiting to become a meal at every Korean grocery on practically every block of Manhattan. And the latest craze? Chopped or create-your-own salad shops!

Salads do have their limitations. I’ve never met a man who will accept a salad as a meal. My husband always says, “I’m not eating the food of the real food.” Cows eat grass. We eat cows. He doesn’t want to eat the grass, just the cows! No matter how much chewy stuff you put in there, guys are always looking for that “real food.” And then there’s the feeling of not being full. Salad just doesn’t seem to satisfy like a T-bone slathered with steak sauce. Women on the other hand will happily share an appetizer-sized salad and call it a meal (some women, not this woman).

There was the old adage that a salad is great for a diet. Sure, so long as you don’t load it up with goodies like smoked goose breast or mozzarella cubes. I kind of think there’s an inequity in this. If you’re going to be virtuous and choose a salad for lunch instead of a rich, juicy hamburger, shouldn’t the calories count in the negative column? Isn’t it reasonable to expect no weight gain from a meal consisting mostly of lettuce, no matter what else happens to be on the plate? If you ask me, the answer is yes (but you probably shouldn’t ask me). Israeli restaurants used to offer up exactly three salads. There was the Israeli/Arabic salad in which the tomatoes and cucumbers are chopped into microscopic pieces and dressed with lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper and parsley. That one is still a winner.

Then you had the Nicoise, or so it was called even though no evidence of anchovy or fresh green beans was found. And of course the famous Greek salad – big chunks of tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, black olives and pieces of feta cheese. That was it! Well folks, welcome to my world. Israel has become something of a champion when it comes to salads – if not in originality of ingredients, certainly in size. You would not believe what they’re serving up these days. Order a salad at an ordinary restaurant and it comes to you in a bowl the size of a laundry sink. We’ve gone gourmet too. Goat cheese on bruschetta, fried haloumi on stir-fried veggies, pears with Roquefort, root vegetables in a citrus dressing … it goes on and on.

So, just in case you didn’t know, we’re not just the land of milk and honey anymore. We’ve gone green! Be it baby or beet, collard or kale, nana or nasturtium, it’s time to pile up those leaves and chomp away your cares. Happy Salad Days to one and all! 

Anne Kleinberg, author of Menopause in Manhattan and several cookbooks, left a cushy life in Manhattan to begin a new one in Israel. Now she’s opened a boutique bed and breakfast in her home on the golf course in Caesarea. For details, visit annekleinberg.com and casacaesarea.com.

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