I Like My Lettuce Rare…

Chef In A Hardhat

To succeed in a fitness lifestyle is to live a life of consistent ritual.  The most fulfilling ritual I enjoy from week to week is, not my runs, not my bike rides, not even my strength training sessions.  The most meaningful ritual I observe with regard to my fitness is the building of my salads. I say “building”, because it is a legitimate construct for me, and I am the general contractor.  This time of year, I am very busy building a lot of salads.   

Like all contractors, my product is the sum of an idea, some organization, available materials, and labor.  Since I am building on behalf of myself, there is never a need for a blueprint, just the idea – executed with organization and careful craftsmanship.  I often improvise the design as the plan in my head changes to accommodate a mood, a need, or even to accommodate a shortage of some materials by favoring others.  My salads are free-form structures.  

Say hello to my little grill. All salad proteins begin here...

Building Materials; If It Grows Or If It Goes, It’s A Potential Material  

Like all builders, I use many subcontractors in my salad building; those people who grow my lettuce for me, my tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, etc.  I have subs processing goat and feta cheeses on my behalf, as well as other subs distilling my vinegar and extracting my olive oil. Trust, I pay them well for their services.  And yes, the grocery is much more like a lumber yard to me during salad building season – seems like I am on a supply run nearly every day for one of my new-builds.  

Lettuce of many forms, onion, pepper, tomato, nuts, sun dried tomatoes, broccoli, and artichoke hearts are all would-be candidates for any salad project.  Cut up slices of apple, cracker bits, grapes, and even dollops of peanut butter might end up in one of my projects.  Not every material makes it into each new build; my style of architecture varies with my mood.  

I always select a protein to be included in each project; these are the rebar that help reinforce the structure.  Chicken is most often used because of its low cost and availability.  But there are other proteins used on occasion; thinly cut slices of beef, lamb, or chicken sausage.  Sea scallops, shrimp, and even small torn pieces of jerky can contribute to the unique architecture of my salads.  

The Romantic Laborer At Work  

Not just the contractor, I am also the laborer – and that’s the best job on Earth.  If I could build salads for a living I would.  Few things are as romantic to me as the tactile act of slicing vegetables.  Running a sharp knife through the austere exterior of an onion or tomato, only to see it open up into a vivid presentation of geometry, so pleases my eyes that I am always disappointed to stop.  Slicing and cutting vegetables is like taking sacrament to me – honoring all the backs and all the hands which brought these vegetables this far.  

For me, nothin' but pure love for tomatoes...

I cut all my materials in advance of the build, and lay them out on the countertop so I can identify, and easily grab those which I will need next.  Quartered tomatoes rest beside thinly sliced red onion, as rings of bell pepper might sit beside some cashews or just-grilled carne asada.  Lettuce of several colors and families intermingle, and wait for the nod.  Each group of building materials is divided into thirds.   

Though I am capable of building any size salad, from a single-story flat to salad skyscrapers, I most often build the three-story salad; the best size for my needs.  I build my salads slowly, in three symmetrical layers.  A layer is built; perhaps some lettuce, red onion, bell peppers, cucumbers, tomato, cashews, a protein, and maybe some feta.  Next comes layer two – just as symmetrical, and then layer three, all done in equal portion.  It’s a very simple build.  

Grilled-seared sea scallops in there. The bummer was that all I had that day for the foundatin was iceberg lettuce. Still, mmmmmm, grrrrr...

The Finish Work  

Dressings are used, but used sparingly.  The main finish work on the salads I build are seasonings and spices.  I am particularly fond of California style garlic salt, or Jane’s Krazy Mixed Up Salt; these enhance all the flavors of the materials used.  A little dressing goes a long way when the spices are laid correctly.  I am a fan of Greek style dressing, but have come to appreciate using fresh salsa as a salad dressing – low in calories, high flavor, and great for helping keep vienal and arterial walls clean.  

Before a long bike ride, I will allow myself some dressing and some asiago cheese. 20-mile ride, and that dressing is history...

Why This Essay Should Be Shared…  

…because there is an absolute joy in preparing, and partaking in such a healthy meal.  A great salad is a functional, aesthetically pleasing form of fitness fuel.  No rich entrée, no casserole, stew, pizza or pasta dish I have ever built has so compelled me to just stare it before eating.  Building and enjoying a colorful salad is an act of self-respect, and is the single best way I know to connect my body to my day.  These summer months truly are the salad days.  That said, in Winter, I do build a pretty mean pot of chili!  Be well.  rc  

A salad that I got subbed out; Thank you Fallbrook Cafe for making the best pre-fab salad on the planet...

10 responses

  1. I’m a salad fan myself. I like to store some of my favorite salad fixings in a large container with 10 sections. It’s my own version of a salad bar. It’s a great way to get my kids to eat more salads too. Somehow they think if there are garbanzo beans and chopped egg whites on top of the lettuce, they aren’t really eating something healthy. Go figure.

  2. I’ll be thinking about this essay when I’m doing some salad construction later today!

    I also make a lot of salads. All different, yet there is a harmony of color and tastes depending on my artistic bent or the seasonal gifts that are provided.

    I’ve been lucky enough to have seen those beautiful miles and miles of inspirational produce that grow throughout your state! Thank you!

  3. OMG, I am such a lazy cook!!!! I hate all the cutting up & such…. I tend to eat my veggies as veggies rather than make a salad…. I know, BAD! But it is the way I am.. lazy in the kitchen but I still eat healthy! 🙂

    OK, ROY, make that salad up for me & I will eat it!!!!! 🙂 Here I come!!!!!!

    What a great post.. sh*t, I am hungry!

  4. Karen: I love the idea of an in-home salad bar, and the prep for it. No joke, I will buy plastic container(s) for the fridge this very day so I can do that as well. Great idea.

    Dr J: I will build my salads, and you can sculpt yours. Ever the artist your are….

    Jody: You and hubby are welcome to make the road trip down the 405 (if you can stand it), any day, and I will gladly build salads for you both — I mean that by the way…

  5. Bobbie: It’s all in the attitude. Crazy as this sounds, in summer time I love to make and enjoy salads for breakfast — yes, breakfast. Most days I do not have the time, but once in a blue moon it happens, and those days become special.

  6. I want a salad RIGHT NOW! I have been a bit lazy with my salads lately. Usually just lettuce thrown together with a cucumber. I also love Karen’s idea above of a “salad bar”! I’m going to try that.

  7. YUM.

    Want to make me a salad? 🙂

    I like mine with some pan-fried shrimp or hard-boiled egg. I like using hummus or whole-grain mustard as a dressing… gives it a nice creamy kick!

  8. Pingback: Masses Of Mammals… | Roy Cohen's Contemplative Fitness

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