A couple of warm days hint that spring really will come again, even though the world seems out of whack. And that means it’s time to think about main dish salad—or composed salads.
No, composed salads are not jellied, not that pineapple and grated carrots that your mom used to do with orange Jello. Composed salads are simply salads where the ingredients are laid out on a plate instead of tossed in a bowl. Traditionally when you serve them at home, you lay the ingredients out on one large platter. Diners help themselves, but we all know that self-service can get kind of messy. For a small crowd—two to four—I sometimes serve individual salads laid out in a soup plate. You can dress the individual dishes or pass a small pitcher of dressing.
The nice thing about them is you can use almost any ingredients that strike your fancy. There are, however, two basic composed salads familiar to everyone who has ever had lunch in a bistro café. Both of these are often served on a bed of lettuce.
Cobb salad started in the 1930s at the Brown Derby restaurant in Hollywood. Owner Bob Cobb went prowling in his restaurant’s refrigerator for leftovers, arranged them on a plate, drizzled French dressing over the dish, and there it was. Within days it was on the menu
Traditional ingredients are cold chicken breast, often diced, tomato (cherry tomatoes are good), green beans, tiny potatoes, cheese (sometimes blue, sometimes cheddar), avocado, bacon bits, sometimes artichoke hearts.
Cobb used French dressing on his salad but use your imagination. I think a good vinaigrette is nice because it accents the flavor of the ingredients without overwhelming them. But restaurants frequently offer a choice, so feel free to use ranch, blue cheese, Italian, honey-mustard, whatever suits.
Whereas Cobb features chicken, salade Niçoise is built around tuna. I like to do it with high quality canned albacore in water.
Olives are also traditional, but I omit them because olives are on the short list of things I just don’t eat. But tiny baby potatoes, peeled, boiled, and cut in quarters if necessary, green beans, hard-boiled eggs are all common. I sometimes add asparagus.
Here’s a vinaigrette that I frequently use (enough for two individual salads):
Scant quarter cup chives, or substitute tops only of scallions
2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
1 small shallot, roughly chopped
½ tsp. honey
½ tsp. Dijon mustard
½ cup vegetable oil
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Put it all in the food processor and whirl until greens are absorbed into dressing.
When the potatoes are warm, pour a small bit of vinaigrette on them. Also dress the greens lightly that you use on the plate. Drizzle remaining dressing over the salad.
The following two dressings are good on Cobb salads or salade Noicoise as well as a plain green salad.
Avocado salad dressing
1 lg. avocado, soft, ready to use; peeled and cut into chunks; it’s a good idea to mash it with a fork to make it easier to blend; if you don’t, chunks keep reappearing.
2 tsp. lemon juice
½ cup. Greek yogurt
Hot sauce to taste--I sprinkle a few drops
1/4 cup olive oil
2 garlic cloves
3/4 tsp. salt
Throw it all in the food processor.
Creamy blue cheese salad dressing
2 Tbsp. each mayonnaise, sour cream, and buttermilk
1 tsp. lemon juice
¼ tsp. pepper
¼ tsp. Kosher salt
1 anchovy fillet, mashed (optional)
Blue cheese – 2-3 Tbsp. to taste
1 finely chopped scallion
Mix all ingredients, adding cheese and scallion last. If dressing is too thick, sparingly add more buttermilk.
This is classic for wedge salads but also good on torn leaf lettuce and any number of other good things.