Summertime is right for 'salad days'

Wednesday , June 18, 2014 - 12:00 AM

Chat and Chew

Shakespeare first coined the term, "salad days," but he wasn't talking about diets. In the play, "Antony and Cleopatra," Cleopatra is referring to her time of youth and inexperience when she says, "My salad days, When I was green in judgment, cold in blood, To say as I said then!"

Whatever, Cleo.

Modern-day usage has expanded the term to refer to someone's heyday or prime, when they were at the peak of their abilities.

But I think of "salad days" as summer, because that's when cool, crisp greens and crunchy veggies seem to taste best. And it's when so many veggies are at their peak or prime.

Have you ever wondered how classic salads and dressings got their name?

Caesar Salad: It wasn't named for Roman emperor Julius Caesar, nor for comedian Sid Caesar. It was born at Caesar’s Place (NOT Caesar’s Palace) in Tijuana, Mexico, on July 4, 1924. The story goes that chef Caesar Cardini ran short on ingredients and improvised with what was on hand: romaine leaves, Parmesan cheese, olive oil, lemon juice, a raw egg, Worcestershire sauce, and croutons. The salad was a hit with the Hollywood set who frequently drove to Tijuana during the Prohibition era. The famed TV chef Julia Child spoke of making a Caesar Salad drive from her childhood home in Pasadena to Tijuana with her parents.

Insalata Caprese (salad "in the style of Capri") comes from the Italian region of Campania, and uses sliced fresh buffalo mozzarella, sliced tomatoes and basil. It supposedly became popular after being served in Capri to the jet-setting King Farouk of Egypt during the 1950s.

Nicoise is a term for dishes typically used in Nice, France. A classic recipe for Nicoise Salad, from Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” contains tuna, anchovies, tomatoes, potatoes, green beans, olives and lettuce.

Cobb Salad was invented by Bob Cobb, the owner of the Brown Derby restaurant, a favorite hangout of early Hollywood stars such as Jimmy Durante and Katharine Hepburn. Legend has it that late one night in the 1920s, Cobb created the salad from the kitchen’s leftovers. The original recipe included chopped avocado, celery, tomato, chives, watercress, hard-boiled eggs, chicken, bacon, and Roquefort cheese.

Cole slaw, according to food historians, came from the Dutch term “koolsla” meaning “cabbage salad.”

Waldorf Salad is credited to Oscar Michel Tschirky (1866-1950), the long-time maitre d’ of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, created for the hotel’s opening in 1896. His book, called “The Cook Book” by “Oscar of the Waldorf,” gave a recipe using apples, celery and mayonnaise. In “The Waldorf-Astoria Cookbook” published in 1981 by Ted James and Rosalind Cole, the recipe includes walnuts.

Hidden Valley Ranch dressing came from the Hidden Valley Guest Ranch near Santa Barbara, Calif. Owners Steve and Gayle Henson made it from a blend of dry herbs and spices, then mixed it with mayo and buttermilk. The Hensons began marketing packets of the dry mix and eventually sold the salad dressing business to The HVR Co. in 1972. So many companies made copycat versions that “ranch” is now a generic term.

Of course, you don't have to stick with traditional recipes; you can create a salad with whatever veggies you happen to have in the refrigerator. But it seems that people are more inclined buy a salad in a restaurant than to make one at home.

Maybe it's because of the prep work involved. But now it's so easy to buy mixed greens that are already cut and washed. (However, Consumer Reports and food safety experts advise giving these greens an extra rinse before using.)

Maybe it's because restaurant salads have interesting mix-ins that you don't always keep at home — Kalamata olives, roasted tomatoes, artichoke hearts, berries, nuts, snap peas, feta or blue cheese.

Maybe it's because their dressings taste better. Break out of the ranch rut and try a few different bottled dressings. (If you don't like them, you can always use them as marinades when you grill meat and chicken.) Or try making your own concoctionwith oil, vinegar and your favorite herbs and spices.

Here's a salad has gives you tart-sweet berries, spicy nuts, and pungent notes of blue cheese. It's easy to make using greens from the garden, or bagged salad greens. The spiced pecans take 20-30 minutes to do, and you can store the leftovers to use in a future salad.

The spicy-sweet nuts are a great addition to the salad. But if you don’t want to take the time, you can skip that step and just use plain pecans. You can also use blueberries, and call this a Blue On Blue Spiced Pecan Salad, due to the blue cheese and blueberries.


Spiced Pecans:

1/4 cup water

2 tablespoons butter

1 cup brown sugar

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ginger

1/2 teaspoon cloves or allspice

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

2 cups whole or halved pecans

Mix all ingredients except pecans together in a wide, shallow sauté pan over high heat. Keep stirring until mixture comes to a boil. Turn the heat to medium and allow the syrup mixture to continue to boil about 5-10 minutes, or until syrup is very thick. Add the nuts and stir to coat all of them with the syrup mixture. Remove from the heat.

Spread the nuts on a pan that has been covered with waxed paper or parchment. Allow the syrup to cool and harden. Break up any clumps of nuts. Use 1 cups of nuts in the salad; reserve 1 cup for later use.


1 5-or 6-ounce container (or 5-8 cups) of mixed spring greens (spinach, leaf lettuce, radicchio, arugula, etc.)

1 cup fresh raspberries

1 cup spiced pecans

1 to 2 cups sugar snap peas, optional

4 ounces crumbled blue cheese or feta

Bottled salad dressing (recommended: Marzetti Simply Dressed Strawberry Poppyseed)

Rinse the salad greens before using. Mix salad ingredients together. Add dressing as desired. Makes 3-4 servings.

Options: Add sliced mushrooms, shredded carrots, sliced cucumbers, and other veggies of your choice.

Valerie Phillips can be reached at

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