Spring is gently (and politely) encouraging Old Man Winter to head on home so she can bring in warmer, longer days, pretty blooms, and new life on farms and in backyard gardens. In the Deep South, this time is short; the blistering heat of summer sweeps in quickly, abruptly pushing sweet spring out the door instead of asking nicely.
I borrow a literary term for this abbreviated season, calling the period “the salad days” since so many things are getting green (like a salad!) and because as soon as the temperature stays above 68 for a few days, I start craving salads.
Spring is the perfect time to enjoy them. Lettuces are popping through the dirt, and there are not many spring sensations more pleasing than a bite of just-picked romaine or red-leaf. Soft lettuce varieties are tender and bouncy; crunchier kinds are super crisp and practically pop between your teeth. And the flavors of all are more pronounced.
I wasn’t much of a salad eater until after college, when I discovered that “salad” meant far more than iceberg lettuce with a few slices of cucumber, two cherry tomatoes, and a sprinkling of carrot shreds drowning in chunky blue cheese dressing. Don’t get me wrong. I still like that salad; it’s what I grew up on. And I still make something like it every now and then, especially when my hubby is grilling a steak in summer, and I can get good tomatoes.
But there are so many other types of salad just waiting to be eaten—different lettuces (or no lettuce!), myriad toppings, and oh, so many dressings. In fact, one of the easiest ways to jazz up your salad game is to start making homemade dressings. They’re easy. They’re usually cheaper than store-bought dressings (and don’t contain any unpronounceable ingredients). And they definitely taste better.
I usually make some version of a vinaigrette using a basic formula: vinegar or citrus juice (something acidic), oil, a fresh herb (or garlic or onion or all three), something sweet (honey, sugar, brown sugar), and a generous dash of coarse salt. I just use different things for each category to create a diverse spectrum of dressings. A few of my favorites are below.
Note: The Honey-Lime dressing recipe makes just enough to dress about four side salad servings. The Orange-Rosemary dressing is enough for about six side salads. Double or triple the amounts to make more.
And the instructions are the same for all three: Place all ingredients in a jar, tighten the lid, and shake really well just before serving.
• 1/3 cup vegetable or canola oil
• 3 tablespoons lime juice
• 1.5 tablespoons chopped cilantro
• 1.5 tablespoons raw honey
• 1 tablespoon finely diced shallot
• dash of coarse salt
• 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
• 1/3 cup blood-orange infused olive oil
• 1/3 cup red wine vinegar
• 1 teaspoon sugar
• 1 teaspoon orange zest
• 2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed orange juice
• 1.5 teaspoons fresh rosemary, chopped fine
• dash of coarse salt
SWEET GINGER DRESSING
• 2/3 cup rice vinegar
• 1 cup vegetable oil
• 2 tablespoons sesame oil
• 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
• 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
• 4 cloves garlic, pressed
• 2 tablespoons soy sauce
• 1/2 cup sugar
• 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
SEE MORE JENNIFER KORNEGAY “SALAD DAYS” PHOTOS HERE