To say that my family didn’t eat salads while I was growing up would be an understatement.
We didn’t eat raw vegetables, full stop. My parents’ avoidance of pesticides was so deeply ingrained from their Chinese upbringing that, even in America, we peeled every single piece of fruit we ate. With a paring knife and impressive alacrity, my mom could transform the skin of an apple into a long, unbroken spiral, leaving so little flesh behind that it passed for a party trick. To the never-ending astonishment of my American friends, I peeled each individual grape before I ate it, delicately splitting the skin apart with my fingernails.
Even in adulthood, long after I’d learned to bite into the skin of an apple and pop whole grapes into my mouth, I still couldn’t understand the appeal of a bowl of raw vegetables, smothered in creamy dressing. I knew intellectually that salads were healthy and nutritious, but the visceral experience of eating them felt like a chore instead of a pleasure. I experimented with creating cooked versions of salads, blanching the greens to soften their fibers, adding in sautéed slices of zucchini. Gradually, I discovered a combination of ingredients that could be palatable to me.
So now I have a house salad. My go-to salad. The salad I always make. Here it is in its simplest form: Greens. Fresh Fruit. Dried Fruit. Nuts. Protein.
And here is my favorite version:
- anywhere from half a bag to a full bag of Trader Joe’s Sorrento Salad (a mix of baby arugula, baby spinach, and baby lettuce)
- an apple (in the winter) or a peach or nectarine (in the summer), cut into wedges and then each wedge cut into three or four pieces
- a handful of Trader Joe’s Jumbo Raisin Medley (a colorful blend of golden, flame, and regular raisins)
- a handful of walnut pieces
- chicken or salmon, cooked at home, complete with the oil from the pan in lieu of a more traditional dressing
I’ve made plenty of other variations, too, from using a simpler spinach base to a vegan version with stir-fried tofu for the protein. I even toss in cooked vegetables once in a while, if we have some leftovers in the fridge. I still wouldn’t call myself a salad lover, but learning how flexible a salad can be has helped me to understand the appeal a little better.