There is a certain stigma that goes along with eating salad for a meal, as though it is indicative of our nation’s bipolar attitude toward food. Salad-eating seems to connote choosing low-calorie over deliciousness, and draws to mind humans nibbling on food normally reserved for bunnies.
350 Best Salads and Dressings by George Geary puts these prejudices to rest, and proves that salads can be hearty and healthy, refreshing and flavorful. From the basics to much more creative fare, all of the recipes sound good, and many sound outstanding.
The book starts with a nice introductory section on the ingredients commonly used in salad that is quite thorough, with all kinds of information from how different vinegars are made to how to pick ripe mangoes or chiffonade basil. Another somewhat surprising section, and one that would really excite some people, is entitled Condiments. Who would have thought this book would have recipes for things like Chipotle Mayonnaise, No-Sugar Ketchup, or Bold Chili Sauce? Not I, but it really takes the versatility of the book up a notch.
I should admit that I have mostly been using 350 Best Salads and Dressings for inspiration rather than prescription, and the main reason for this is the dressing recipes. Now, I do not own a single bottle of salad dressing; I always make my dressing from scratch. But when I say I make my dressing, I mean that I choose a combination of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, garlic, salt, and pepper, in varying quantities. It does not mean that I am willing to go out and purchase cream cheese, mayonnaise, buttermilk, hot pepper flakes, dried onion, paprika (okay, that I do have), garlic salt, caraway seeds, and hot pepper sauce, just to make something called “Cajun Spice Dressing.” Over 150 of the 350 recipes are for salad dressings, and, let’s face it, if you are not thrilled about spending thirty bucks to buy various vinegars and spices that you will probably use a sixteenth of to make a salad dressing once, then you will likely not be trying a lot of these. On the other hand, if experimenting with obscure, ingredient-intensive dressings does get you excited, this is the book for you! And I will note that many of the actual salad recipes do have more simplified dressings included in the recipes.
But I don’t want to underplay the role this book has played for me as inspiration. Many of these recipes I might have seen elsewhere and thought, “Hey, that’s an idea for a salad,” but to see them all in one place really makes me reevaluate the sheer breadth of salad options. For example, I think that just having this book in my kitchen is a major reason why I suddenly was inspired to use some leftover, cooked salmon from my dinner tonight for dinner tomorrow, by putting it on mixed baby greens with some chevre, dried plums, and a dressing incorporating a new ingredient for me: honey. I did not find this recipe in the book, but I just knew that George Geary would approve.
Now, I would expect that most people would be interested in this book for the salad recipes, and in this regard, it does not disappoint. You really have everything in here! The Classic Salads section has necessary basics such as The Wedge, Carrot and Raisin Salad, Greek Salad, and Caprese Salad, as well as things that would amaze at a dinner party, such as Fresh Flower Garden Salad. Geary does a great job of telling you what combinations of less common ingredients bring out the best flavor, such as mixing oranges and pecans with endive, or grapefruit and water chestnuts with radicchio, or (who knew?) papaya with tomato, and onion. I could go on about the recipes just in the Classic Salads section, but there are about 250 recipes for salad alone, so let me just say that most salads out there are in this book.
Again, 350 Best Salads and Dressings exceeds what you might expect from a salad recipe book by including things that fall into the rubric of “salads,” but may not come to mind immediately, such as potato salad, chicken salad, tabbouleh, three-bean salad, and Thai noodle salad. For that matter, there are entire sections on Pasta Salads and Whole-Grain and Bean Salads. In addition to the more common ones mentioned, Geary has some truly inventive and delicious-sounding recipes that I am eager to try, such as Roasted Vegetable Pasta Salad with balsamic vinegar and Gorgonzola cheese, Pear Pasta Salad with glazed pecans and raisins, Pineapple and Peach Ginger Noodle Salad that seems perfect for summer, and other pasta salads made with ingredients I never would have thought to add, such as gnocchi, crab, or shrimp.
This book offers an amazing array of dinner-worthy salads, both for vegetarians and meat lovers. A section on Greens and Vegetable Salads gives you several dozen shockingly healthy, yet flavorful, meal ideas. But don’t think that cute hors d’oeuvre-type salads, such as a Moroccan Salad of roasted peppers, feta, and capers aren’t also here, because they sure are. Being from the beef heartland myself, I am surrounded by the type of men who would never dream of eating salad for dinner. But the Meat Salad section includes several recipes, for example, Taco Salad, Vietnamese Beef Salad, and Bacon and Apple with Blue Cheese Salad, which might even please a strapping Midwesterner. However, this section is more limited, and I would not have minded even more meat salads, although there are many with some meat in them in the other chapters.
The final section includes recipes for fruit salads, such as Ambrosia or Fig and Goat Cheese Salad, that would make great unusual, fancy, and easy dinner party desserts.
I will often buy cookbooks just to read them and look at the delicious photos, only later processing that they contain instructions one could use to make edible food. I might as well tell you, this is not one of those cookbooks. Three-hundred and fifty recipes, and only sixteen photos.
The group upon whom 350 Best Salads and Dressings will have the biggest impact are those who cannot imagine how a salad could be a filling, much less delicious, meal. Those who have never seen a salad spinner, would assume the words niçoise or Waldorf referred to the names of clothing designers, or couldn’t fathom putting meat on greens for a hearty dinner instead of throwing some veggies next to a hunk of beef will have their minds blown by even a cursory flip through this book.
On the other hand, those who have a working knowledge of the world of salads, perhaps even order salad as a main dish on occasion at a restaurant, or have ever scrounged through a nearly empty pantry to find some cheese, nuts, and fruit that could be thrown onto greens for lunch will be less amazed by 350 Best Salads and Dressings. If you are already someone who gets inventive with dinner salads, experimenting with different combinations of proteins, fruits, and veggies on lettuce or pasta, you may not really need this cookbook for recipes on a craft, salad-making, that is often intuitive if you have an idea about how flavors combine in food.
But then again, reading through the recipes once more as I write this, I have already picked out a dozen that I plan to make soon, which I would never have come up with on my own. In this sense, there are quite a few recipes in 350 Best Salads and Dressings that could take the salad skills of even a salad devotee to a whole new level.