Saturday, August 3, 2013

Salad Theory

This post is not about trail food. It is about my most-craved, first-thing-I-want-off-the-trail food: salad.

Salad and chocolate tie for my two favorite foods, but, while I can easily have chocolate on trail (well...unless it's summer), salad is probably the most impractical trail food you can find - it takes up a lot of space for not that many calories. is a great way to celebrate renewed access to fresh produce when you return to the front country, and to replenish some of the vitamins and nutrients that may have been lacking in your back country menu. And with the right ingredients you can make it substantial enough to be a whole meal in itself.

So, now that you know that salad is one of my two favorite foods, you should also know that I am a salad artist. And, as such, I have a whole theory about making salads. And this theory works; my salads are really good. Ask my boyfriend Max. He said he started dating me for my salad making abilities. Well, maybe he didn't say it like that, but he did say that when we first started dating, he was "really impressed" with how well I could make salads. And then I knew we were supposed to be together because he was really good at making salad dressings, and introduced me to my all-time favorite dressing that comes from his family.

Here it is: my cornerstone work on the theory of salad. I'm not sure if you'll ever meet anyone who has put as much thought into how to make a good salad as I have, so this is lucky for you that you have found this page.


If it is organic and mostly clean I don't wash it because dry lettuce is essential. If it is dirty or non-organic, rinse it really well and then either let it drip dry for a long time, dry it in a salad spinner, or pat it dry with tea towels. Again, it is important that the lettuce be pretty dry (although it doesn't have to be all the way dry) or else all the excess water will dilute the dressing and interfere with the adherence of the dressing to the leaves.


I think herbs are essential to salads. And not in the way most people use them, which is to add a tablespoon or two of chopped leaves. I try to put in at least a quarter cup to a half cup total of different kinds. It sounds like it will be overwhelming, but it's not. The normal amount is underwhelming, so go crazy and enjoy. My favorites are parsley, cilantro, green onions, and basil. If I have all of them, I'll throw them all in.

Dressing Binder:

This isn't a necessary addition, but there are things that I think of as "dressing binders" that help absorb dressing and then stick to the lettuce leaves so you get more dressing in each bite! These things include: grated carrot, grated cheeses, flax seed, and avocado. Not every salad I make has these things, but the better ones do.


Use any kind of dressing you like. My favorites are the vinaigrettes, and I've shared my favorite vinaigrette recipe below. The most important thing about the dressing though is that you must add it to the salad and toss it VERY, VERY well before serving it! Salads are infinitely better if they have been thoroughly tossed with the dressing, rather than serving the vegetable part and the dressing part separately and each person pouring a little spoonful over their salad.


Toss it A LOT. When you think you are done, keep tossing. Make sure everything is coated and then toss again. Believe me, it's important. If you don't believe me, you can do a test: Make two salads, toss one for 15 seconds, and toss the other one for a whole minute and see which one is better.

Basic Ingredients:

Ingredients will vary a lot depending on what's available to you due to the season or what's at the store that day. My basic salad has most or all of these ingredients:

  • Lettuce
  • Baby spinach
  • Grated carrots (if I'm in a rush, I'll just chop them)
  • Chopped red bell pepper
  • Chopped avocado
  • Fresh herbs 
  • Grated cheese


I add these ingredients when I want to make a stick-to-the-ribs salad, which is probably what you'll want when you get off-trail:

  • Flax seed - a couple tablespoons
  • Sunflower seeds - a handful or two
  • Olives
  • Shredded or chopped chicken, pork, beef, or sausage
  • Smoked trout or salmon
  • Chopped nuts: walnuts, almond, macadamias, pistachios
  • Raisins or dried cranberries
  • Sour cream

Bama's Salad Dressing

Ooh...this is going to be tricky because it's one of those recipes you don't measure out. If you make it enough you'll get your own feel for how you like the proportions.

  • 3 large garlic cloves, peeled
  • a healthy couple pinches of sea salt (it will seem like a lot but, trust me, the salt makes this dressing)
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • vinegar (your choice here; my favorite is balsamic, or a flavored balsamic like fig balsamic, but you can also use apple cider or red wine or any other kind of vinegar)

  1. Put the garlic cloves and salt in a mortar and pestle and mash it all up until the cloves turn into a paste.
  2. Pour a couple tablespoons each of vinegar and olive oil over it (I think I usually tend towards more olive oil than vinegar, but proportions are to your own tastes). 
  3. Let the dressing sit for at least 5 minutes, but longer is better, because the garlic will start to infuse into the oil and vinegar and make it more flavorful, and the oil and vinegar will start to cure the garlic and it won't taste so raw when you get a little piece of it. I like to let it sit overnight.

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