Notes on a spinach salad

When I was first given the opportunity to write this weekly love letter to food and the Bull City, I was completely at sea.  I had all kinds of questions.

What can I write about?

What can’t I write about?

What if nobody likes my recipes?

What if I stink at this?

To my surprise, I really only had two commandments.  The column should have something to do with food.  And, it should be warts-and-all-honest.  That’s why you have access to multiple humiliating facts about me, and all of the friends and loved ones about whom I write enjoy aliases.

So sit back and relax.  I’m about to share two strange personal mental facts, one mildly embarrassing, and one just plain bizarre.

First, the red-faced factoid: unlike the vast majority of preschool-aged children, I don’t know my right from left.  I’m not completely ignorant, if I really think about it, I can usually get it right two times out of three.  But it’s not instinctual the way it is for everyone else.  For the love of all that’s holy, do not ask me for directions.

The other odd fact is I hear numbers in a rhythm in my brain, and so remember them forever.  I know phone numbers from junior high, zip codes from places I haven’t written to in decades.  Driver’s license number?  Petey’s social?  Expired credit card numbers?  Yep, yep, yep.

And this, unfortunately, is pretty much it for my arithmetical prowess.  I’m straight-up bad at math.

But there’s one algebraic formula that I know inside and out.

Spinach salad computation.

Along with ranch dressing, this is another food I ate for the first time at Mama Cat’s table.

Her components remain the classic elements of anything calling itself a spinach salad.

Spinach: Years ago, when purchasing spinach at the grocery store, it was usually mature, and curly-leafed.  The pre-washed baby variety is currently everywhere.  Curly-leafed is now so rare, it is literally almost extinct.  I like a 5-6 leaf to bite ratio.

Mushroom: About ¾ cup of thickly sliced mushrooms should be in a main-course sized serving.  Use button, cremini, or portobello.  The ‘shrooms are important, but should be of a milder type, so as not to hijack the rest of the elements.

Red onion: Slice them paper-thin into half-moons.  Use about ¼ cup (although true raw onion-haters, like Petey, can be forgiven for omitting).

Bacon:  Was there ever a lovelier word?  The only constraint here is your own concern for cholesterol levels.  I use 3-4 slices, cooked until very crispy, and broken into the bowl at the very last minute, so as to retain that crispiness.

Eggs:  Two per, hard-cooked.  But hard-cooked skillfully.  No green yolks or funky odors.  To achieve this, place eggs in a pot of cold water and add a handful of salt and 2 tablespoons vinegar.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  At that point, remove from heat, cover and let sit for 13 minutes.  Then drain and peel right away under cold water.

Cheese: Not in that first salad, but optional and acceptable.  Diner’s choice as to type.

Dressing:  Ranch, of course.  But the original, made from a packet with mayo, and real buttermilk (use fat-free buttermilk, you’ll never notice the difference).

Just like all of cooking, balance is key.  Balance between flavors and balance of textures.  You need sweet, sour, salty, and bitter.  You need silky, crispy, juicy, and soft.

All you need is a fork and a bowl...

All you need is a fork and a bowl…

The one item which would have perfected the balance of that first salad was something sweet and juicy.  Tomatoes or berries are traditionally used for this.  But last week I used fresh clementine segments, and it was really good.

You can also add nuts, or replace your bacon with them (1/4 to 1/3 cup).  It will bring the same crispy, salty crunch.  They’re also much more nutritious.

And because it’s a salad, each forkful will have a varied combination of ingredients and amounts.  So each component should be tasty on its own, and play well with everything else.

With a little practice and experimentation, you can produce your own stellar salad equation.  But if you stumble, just add more bacon or ranch, and it’ll be tasty enough.

Thanks for your time.