Search form

Cooking with Joy

Enough With
The Green Salad Already!


By Joy Rotondi

Tasty, exotic alternatives to the everyday side salad are as easy to create as opening a bag of pre-washed greens and make use of winter produce such as avocados, citrus fruits, root vegetables like carrots and jicama; and fennel (finocchio).
Included: Recipes for sumptuous, lettuce-free salads.

There comes a time in the life of every home cook where she just cant face another green salad. Sure, a green salad is reliable. Nobody actually complains about a green salad. Plus there is the irresistible attraction of pre-washed and bagged babies -- baby spinach, baby arugula, baby romaine, and then theres spring herb mix and Asian this or that.

You know in your heart that you are supposed to wash it before serving, but you never do. You empty the green stuff into a bowl and hope everyone survives until morning. Perhaps you throw in some sliced cukes or chopped carrots or grape tomatoes. On a really exciting day, you might chop up an apple that came back in a lunchbox and chuck in a few stale raisins. Its still sure to pass as the required green salad. Plus, your progeny can pick their own dressing from the door of the fridge, which makes them feel empowered. If one of those ingrates cant stand tomatoes, make him pick them. Or, the tomatoes can be served on the side. Life sure is glamorous.

About the Author

Joy Rotondi

Joy Rotondi recently returned to the classroom and teaches sixth-grade language arts near Boston, Massachusetts. She was raised in an Italian-American family happily obsessed with good food. Her prowess in the kitchen was first noted when she whipped lime Jello to a mousse at age 7. By age 12 she'd advanced to the salmon mousse in aspic featured on the cover of Gourmet.

On Thanksgiving Day 1996, with the help of friend and culinary cohort Cindy Blandino, she launched , a playful site dedicated to serious American cooking. has been featured on CNN, Better Homes and Gardens , and in The Wall Street Journal, among other places. Her bread and butter for the last 11 years has been designing and maintaining Web sites for the culinary world, including restaurants, culinarians, and food marketers. Rotondi lives on Boston's North Shore with her 12-year-old, a Shetland sheepdog, and four hens.

Visit her Web site

There are sophisticated, alluring alternatives to the everyday side salad. And in the dead of winter, the following dazzlers make use of produce in season including the avocado and citrus fruits, root vegetables like carrots and jicama, and that delightfully surprising Italian staple, fennel (finocchio).

Some of the recipes that follow require nothing more than a simple vinaigrette. Vinaigrette is creamy emulsion of oil and acid. Traditionally, vinaigrette contains chopped fresh herbs and dry or prepared mustard. However, the combinations are endless. Some prefer a tangy dressing with a higher proportion of the sour liquid; some prefer a milder, slicker coating for their fruits and vegetables and use a larger proportion of oil. Experiment. Many cooks toss all the ingredients into a jar and shake or use a blender.

I prefer to whisk the vinaigrette from scratch in the bottom of the empty salad bowl. This requires a good sense of timing as it should be done just before serving the salad course. First put the oil and salt in the bowl and beat with the whisk. Don't skimp on the salt -- that's a common mistake. Incorporate the mustard, if called for. Then whisk in the vinegar or juice a drop or two at a time. Finally, add herbs and freshly ground pepper or seasonings of your choice. When the dressing is ready -- and before it has a chance to separate -- place the salad ingredients in the bowl and toss. Serve at once.

This is grown-up food prepared in a grown-up way -- hence the minimal instructions. I cannot guess how many people are in your household, or whether or not you prefer an acidic dressing or the barest hint of oil. Perhaps you are reducing your sodium. Or upping your sodium. Whatever. Use your own common sense and finely honed taste to decide quantities.

Should someone at the table get sentimental about the missing mesclun, give them a scornful look as if theyve just committed a fashion faux pas. Or lie. Tell them todays salad is what the celebrities are eating. Convince them that the green salad has not gone away; its just gone into rehab.

Green salad is so yesterday!

Avocado and Citrus Salad Vinaigrette This sliced salad is a very pretty pinwheel of color -- the red of the onion, the orange and pinks of the citrus, and the spring green of the avocado.

  • Red onion, peeled and thinly sliced into rounds
  • Orange and/or grapefruit, peeled and thinly sliced into rounds (save the juice for the vinaigrette)
  • Avocado, peeled, pitted, and sliced lengthwise
  • A favorite vinaigrette with fresh citrus juice replacing some of the vinegar or lemon
Pinwheel sliced onion, citrus and avocado in layers on a platter. Drizzle with the vinaigrette and serve at once.

Fennel Salad An unusual and exquisitely simple salad with an Italian heritage. Fennel might be called finocchio in your produce section. It resembles a ferny celery.

  • Fennel bulb
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • A generous pinch of sugar
  • Lemon juice
  • A splash of balsamic vinegar
  • Freshly ground black pepper
Cut away the fennel bulb's tough base, the leaves, and the stringy part of the stalk. (The fringe-like leaves can be set aside as a garnish.) Leave the tender part of the bulb and the lower, whiter part of the stalks. With a long, thin, serrated knife, slice the remaining fennel as thinly as possible to form rounds and half moons. Set aside.

In a bowl, use a wire whisk to beat the olive oil followed by each of the remaining ingredients. Toss in the sliced fennel. Taste carefully for seasonings and serve at once.

Jicama Toss Jicama is a root vegetable from Mexico. When sliced, jicama has the crunch of an apple and the translucent look of Asian pear. The flavor is delicate and oh so slightly sweet.

  • Jicama, peeled, sliced 1/8-inch thick and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • Oranges, sectioned and then cut in thirds, saving the juice
  • Bell pepper, preferably red, chopped
  • Raisins
  • Lime juice
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • A pinch of salt
  • A pinch of cardamom
In an amply-sized bowl, toss together all the ingredients, including the orange juice. Serve in small, deep bowls. Or, for a light lunch, arrange red leaf lettuce on salad plates, top with a scoop of cottage cheese, and spoon the compote over the top.

Carrot Salad With Fresh Dill An old stand-by from my mental recipe files. Simple and satisfying, it adds color and tang to any plate. The French, who excel at raw vegetable side dishes, have a version of this you might recognize called carrottes rpes -- grated carrots.

  • A small dollop of honey
  • Olive oil
  • A smidge of Dijon mustard, to taste
  • Some carrots, peeled or scraped
  • Fresh dill, chopped (use bottled dill weed if fresh dill is not available)
  • Fresh lemon juice
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
Shred the peeled carrots using the large grating disk of a food processor, mandoline, or, simply, on the large teeth of an old-fashioned grater. In the bottom of a chilled bowl, beat honey, olive oil, and mustard with a wire whisk. Slowly beat in the lemon juice, a few drops at a time. Add salt and pepper to taste. Toss in the carrots and dill. Make only enough for the meal at hand. This dish does not keep well overnight.

Sicilian Blood Orange Salad Don't be put off by the name--- the blood orange is an achingly-delicious, garnet-colored fruit now commonly found in American markets. The contrasting colors and flavors of this simple salad are show stoppers! Look for oil-cured olives in the Italian specialty section of the supermarket next to the marinated mushrooms and jarred antipasti. There is no brine in the jar and the olives are wrinkled and jet black, so they are easy to spot.

  • Blood oranges, peeled and sliced into rounds (or regular oranges if your blood supply is low)
  • Black oil-cured olives, pitted and coarsely chopped (with some whole ones for garnish)
  • Your very best extra virgin olive oil
  • A dash of the highest quality balsamic vinegar
  • A pinch of salt, preferably fleur de sel or grey sea salt
In a shallow, round platter, arrange the sliced oranges like overlapping petals radiating from the center of the dish. Scatter the chopped olives over the oranges. Dribble with the olive oil. Sparingly, scatter a few crystals of salt and a few drops of balsamic vinegar over the salad. Place some whole olives in the center of the flower pattern of oranges. Serve with a large, shallow spoon to catch some of the juice.