Salads, wonderful though they are, were not first on my list of foods I wanted to enjoy when we moved to Asia. I was skeptical of my ability to get the greens clean and was afraid that eating raw vegetables would make us sick. I was also nervous about "night soil" fertilizer, which I heard was pretty common here. And after a bout with giardia in our first year, I didn't trust the water used to wash the vegetables either! Finally, though, I developed a three step process: clean my greens in water with a bit of soap, rinse off that water, and then do another rinse with bottled water. At that point I felt they were safe and was willing to eat them, so salads became part of our life again. (That is, if I was willing to put the work into that process!)
Since salad dressing wasn't available, I found ways to make my own. Here are two of my favorite recipes: strawberry vinaigarette and the one I'll share today for Mandarin Almond Salad. It does require almond extract in the dressing for the full effect, but it is worth asking for in a care package or buying out of the country. The dressing is obviously different without the almond extract, but still delicious. I served this salad with our Christmas Dinner meal and it was wonderful! Even my friend who is usually an "Italian dressing only" salad eater enjoyed it!
Mandarin Almond Salad
1/4 cup sliced almonds (I didn't have any, so I used chopped pecans, which were delightful also)
2 T sugar
2 tsp minced parsley (I used cilantro)
1-2 bunches leaf lettuce
1 cup sliced raw celery
1 c. drained mandarin oranges (I used about 10 xiao jin ju, clementines)
2 Tbsp vinegar
2 Tbsp sugar
1/4 cup oil (I used corn oil)
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp almond extract
First, carmelize the almonds (pecans). Combine the nuts with the sugar in a dry frypan. Cook over low heat, stirring until sugar melts to coat the nuts. Spread on greased foil to cool. To make the salad, add to the lettuce the celery, parsley (cilantro) and oranges. Pour on the dressing and toss to coat. Sprinkle with carmelized almonds (pecans). Serve immediately. Yummy!
Homemade Croutons are also a favorite on salads at our house. Crouton's final flavor really depends a lot on what kind of bread you start with, so I'd use homemade bread if at all possible. I usually have a bag in my freezer of those leftover ends and crusts, I use those for breadcrumbs but make croutons out of the "good stuff"--the middle of the loaf! (Sorry, crust lovers!)
Here's what I do: Lay out on cookie sheets slices of bread. In a small bowl, pour some olive oil and crush in lots of fresh garlic. Brush the oil mixture generously over the bread and sprinkle with your choice of dried spices (I often use an italian mix--basil and oregano, but thyme or dill would be good too) and plenty of salt (garlic salt is yummy!). A sprinkle of parmesan cheese wouldn't hurt either. Then, turn the bread slices over and repeat. Finally, dice the bread into cubes on the tray, stir around briefly, and bake in a 250 oven for approximately an hour, stirring occasionally. Get them nice and crispy and they're done. Mmmm...delicious! Try to refrain from popping them in your mouth like candy!
Happy salad eating, everyone!