(10 seconds each to read and are almost that quick to prepare)
By Lisa Messinger
Food and Cooking at Creators Syndicate
There is no reason you shouldn't be as proud of your chef's salads as Louis Diat, chef at the Ritz Carlton in New York City, was of his. Although, as Gourmet Magazine wrote at the end of the last century, no one ever had officially claimed to be the chef in the title of the popular American salad, Diat is usually the one closest associated with modern versions, which started popping up on restaurant menus in the 1940s.
Diat may have been among the first to include a mixture of meat, vegetables and hard-cooked egg that is most linked with today's easy and economical interpretations and whose brief instructions were remarked upon in food historian Evan Jones' 1975 American Food: The Gastronomic Story.
The salad may trace its roots to salmagundi, a 17th century meat and salad dish that originated in England and then was popular in Colonial America.
Unlike Colonial compositions, that of Diat and New York Sun food editor Edith Barber, who both included different versions in their 1940s cookbooks, many restaurant menus over the last 50 years seem to be in a chef's salad rut. They often conform to this popular description from Wikipedia: "An American salad consisting of hard-boiled eggs; one or more varieties of meat, such as ham, turkey, chicken or roast beef; tomatoes; cucumbers; and cheese all placed on a bed of lettuce or other leaf vegetables." Merriam-Webster Dictionary adds that it is meal-sized and that the cheese and meat are usually cut julienne style. Such compilations allow home cooks and chefs to economically use up leftovers in an everything-but-the-kitchen sink-style salad.
The most important thing to remember, a la Diat with his choices, is that you are the chef in chef's salad. Pick palate pleasers that appeal to you and your family and serve surprises in the form of both the proteins and dressings, like the ideas that follow. First is Diat's suggestion from his 1941 Cooking a la Ritz cookbook. Tongue could be skipped or beef tongue from a delicatessen could substitute for the ox tongue.
Fun fare like this also proves food preparation can be easy, nutritious, inexpensive, fun - and fast. The creative combinations are delicious proof that everyone has time for creating homemade specialties and, more importantly, the healthy family togetherness that goes along with it!
Another benefit: You effortlessly become a better cook, since these are virtually-can't-go-wrong combinations. They can't help but draw "wows" from family members and guests.
- EARLY MODERN CHEF'S SALAD A LA CHEF LOUIS DIAT
Place separately in a salad bowl equal amounts of chopped lettuce (place on the bottom of the bowl), boiled chicken, smoked ox tongue and smoked ham, all cut in julienne style. Add one-half hard-cooked egg for each portion. Place some watercress in the center and serve with French dressing.
- CHEF'S SALAD WITH TRIPLE THREAT DRESSING
Top chopped raw spinach leaves with strips of cold cuts of maple turkey and crisply cooked bacon bits, white cheddar cheese, cooked honey-glazed carrots and cooked string beans. Serve with a dressing that is an equal mixture of French and raspberry vinaigrette and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.
- CHEF'S SALAD THAT'S SOY GOOD
Top chopped arugula with chunks of firm tofu, spiced soy cheese, roasted soy nuts (sold in packages in many supermarkets like peanuts), and peeled jicama and bell pepper cut julienne style. Serve with a dressing mixed well from softened soy cream cheese, fresh orange juice, honey and curry powder.
- WARM YOU UP CHEF'S SALAD
Top shredded butter lettuce with cooked (and still hot) crumbled ground lamb or turkey that's been seasoned with mint, allspice, cinnamon and cumin, crumbles of feta cheese, chopped cooked eggplant and green onion and chopped pistachios. Serve with a dressing mixed well from extra-virgin olive oil, fresh lemon juice, chopped parsley, freshly ground pepper and salt that has been slightly warmed.
QUICK TIP OF THE WEEK: When it comes to famed restaurant chef and culinary TV series host Gordon Ramsay, the safest place to eat might be at his home. On various U.S. and U.K. (often shown on the BBC in the U.S.) TV shows, the innovator is shown often angrily chewing out restaurateurs or cooking competitors he doesn't think are up to the task. In Gordon Ramsay's Home Cooking, Ramsay gives a glance at his easier-going side with recipes he's found to have panache but require less know-how and anxiety than it would take, he writes, to become a "Michelin-starred chef." In this offering from the last few years that is among the best of his many books, he assures: "You know the kind I mean-where following one recipe meant you had to turn to five other recipes to prepare the various stages before you could even begin to tackle the featured dish. It was crazy, and completely failed to recognize that home cooking and restaurant cooking are two very different things." Yet, even slashing the anxiety, Ramsay still manages to have you easily creating memorable dishes such as pork and bacon sliders with homemade barbecue sauce; wild mushroom risotto; and miso-braised salmon with Asian vegetables.
Lisa Messinger at Creators Syndicate is a first-place winner in food and nutrition writing from the Association of Food Journalists and the National Council Against Health Fraud and author of seven food books, including the best-selling The Tofu Book: The New American Cuisine with 150 Recipes (Avery/Penguin Putnam) and Turn Your Supermarket into a Health Food Store: The Brand-Name Guide to Shopping for a Better Diet(Pharos/Scripps Howard). She writes two nationally syndicated food and nutrition columns for Creators Syndicate and had been a longtime newspaper food and health section managing editor, as well as managing editor of Gayot/Gault Millau dining review company. Lisa traveled the globe writing about top chefs for Pulitzer Prize-winning Copley News Service and has written about health and nutrition for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Reader's Digest, Woman's World and Prevention Magazine Health Books. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com.