A salad is a food item generally served either prior to or after the main dish as a separate course, as a main course in itself, or as a side dish accompanying the main dish. The word “salad” comes from the French salade of the same meaning, from the Latin salata, “salty.”
A salad is most often composed of a mixture of uncooked vegetables, built up on a base of green leafy vegetables such as one or more lettuce varieties, alfalfa sprouts, cabbage, spinach or arugula (rocket). This is often referred to as a “green salad.”
In modern times, green salads, in particular, are often served 'undressed' and, instead, a separate salad dressing, often of the eater's choosing, will be served with, or alongside, the salad.
In addition to green salads, there is a wide variety of classes of recipes types which are considered salads, including:
- Tabbouleh, a Middle Eastern salad based on parsley, which may be as much as half re-hydrated cracked wheat or couscous, with lemon juice, diced tomato, a bit of olive oil, and salt. It is served cold or approaching room temperature with no additional salad dressing.
- Potato salads, macaroni salads, and Italian-esque pasta salads which are, perhaps 90% or more, composed of starch or grain ingredients, rather than fresh vegetables. No additional salad dressing is required or served with these salads. Like green salads, they are ideally served cold or approaching room-temperature.
- Asian noodle salads, which include, for example, cold cellophane noodles or rice vermicelli and a variety of fresh diced or julienned vegetables with an appropriate dressing. They are served cold or at room temperature. The noodles mentioned are fragile so care must be taken to only cook them briefly and immediately chill them quickly and thoroughly in cold water before attempting to use them in a salad.
- Fruit salads, which are prepared with the same general thought as a green salad, however the simplest of these is composed of bite-sized cut fresh fruit, usually without greens of any sort. There may be a very light dressing added to the salad prior to serving, perhaps consisting only of the amount of orange juice needed to lightly coat the ingredients. From there, fruit salads can quickly branch out to be, in essence, desserts, such as Ambrosia.
- Seafood, meat, poultry and egg salads, perhaps the most well known of which may be Tuna Salad and Chicken Salad. These salads are served cold or approaching room temperature. Notably, many of these salads can be made with simple ingredients, at home, and can be used to make a quick, cold sandwich for lunch. For use in a more elegant setting such salads may be served on a bed of greens and can include more elegant ingredients, if desired.
- Slaws, which are typically composed primarily of finely chopped or julienned fresh vegetables of a sturdy sort (such as cabbages, carrots, broccoli, etc.), perhaps the most commonly known of which is Coleslaw. Coleslaw, in particular, is primarily composed of cabbage coated in a simple dressing prepared and added by the cook before serving. The dressing, in some areas of the world, is typically mayonnaise-based, but may also be vinegar-and-water based. It is served cold to room temperature, without any additional dressing expected to be applied by the eater.
- Single vegetable and Vegetable medley salads. One example of a ‘single’ vegetable salad is English Pea Salad (which might also fit in the starch/grain salad category). It is a simple salad composed primarily of English peas in a mayonnaise-based dressing, often with chopped hard boiled egg whites. One example of a vegetable medley salad is Three Bean Salad, which, in a typical recipe, is composed primarily of green beans, wax beans, and kidney beans, all of which are often canned, in a somewhat clear, sweet, vinegar-based dressing. Three bean salad, itself, is available canned in some areas. These salads are, likewise, served cold to room temperature.
- Simple fresh pickles, for example Cucumber, Tomato, and Onion Salad, in which sliced or diced cucumber, tomato and onion are served anywhere from being merely dressed with, to literally floating in, a water and vinegar mixture, with, perhaps, a bit of black pepper, salt and herbs added. It is served cold to room temperature, using a slotted spoon or is otherwise drained for serving.
Some Guidance in Preparing Salads, Especially Green Salads
- The ingredients of a salad are expected to be cut by the cook to a size that will fit in the human mouth, such that no cutlery is required, except in a very few cases where the need for cutting by the eater is quite apparent and knives are provided.
- Salads, in general, are intended to be eaten using a fork or chopsticks, rather than by spoon or by hand. Accordingly, medium-small, round ingredients, for example, cherry tomatoes, grapes, olives, and items of a similar size, should be cut at least in half, otherwise they will be difficult to lift with the intended utensils.
- All salads should be capable of being served cold, although there may be warm ingredients, such as warm dressings or warm meats added on top.
- As with all foods, the ingredients of a salad should be as fresh as possible, without blemish.