I'll never forget the lonely, nervous feeling I had the first few hours of being alone on campus as a freshman. One of my first dining hall meals was a chef salad from the refrigerator case at the campus convenience store. My high school was small and since we didn't have a hot bar in the cafeteria we always brought our lunches or ordered pizza. The idea of eating my first college meal alone in a dining hall that could easy feed 250 was very nearly lethal.
So, instead I shoveled nests of salty lunch meat around a bed of iceberg lettuce, wondering if I was going to get food poisoning. It would be worth it though, I told myself, not to be a social outcast less than 24 hours into my college career. Of course, I was being ridiculous. By the end of the my second week I was blossoming beside my dorm mates at a table in D-hall, my timid first days completely forgotten. Since then, Chef salads have had a special place in my heart, and rightly so! Done well, it is the perfect salad.
Standing in the dark air conditioned sanctuary of our kitchen today I couldn't bear eating anything warm. Even the scrumptious turkey burger waiting in the fridge couldn't begin to tempt me. A cool, chilled salad was about all I had on my radar. But while seeding a tomato I couldn't help but lament the reputation Chef salads have across campuses world wide: tasteless iceberg lettuce, grainy tomato wedges, those hideous imitation bacon crumbles. Of course, the traditional salad, with wedges of chilled pink tongue and French dressing, isn't a dream either in my book. For me a simple, icy cold salad needs little more than a good deli sandwich: meat, cheese, lettuce and tomato and a perfectly in season sweet onion. This simplified version of a Chef salad, resplendent with an even simpler homemade dressing, is just the thing to make up for all those disappointing dining hall experiences. Serve it as a side or as a light, refreshing summer main course.
Note on Ingredients: This dressing is probably the easiest dressing you'll come across. Omit the milk and you have the perfect dip for grilled shrimp, veggies or a spread for your next toasty Ruben. As a dressing it costs mere pennies to make and is the perfect choice for your next cook out (or the next time you have an excess of refugee condiments clogging up your fridge). Be sure to splurge and buy some good quality deli meet. You can buy small packages in the deli section of deli style meats and cheeses. If you don't like Swiss try Provolone and smoked turkey. Add the tomatoes at the last minute to keep the lettuce from getting soggy.
Ingredients: Serves 2 (entree) or 4 (as a side) 4 cups chopped romaine lettuce (2 hearts) 1/2 sweet onion, such as Vidalia, finely sliced 1/2 cup finely sliced green pepper 1/2 cup chopped, seeded tomato 1/3 cup Swiss cheese, 2 slices 1/3 cup diced ham or 4 slices deli style (Black Forest ham is perfect) 2 boiled eggs 2 slices crispy bacon (optional)
Preparation: 1. Wash and dry the lettuce. Chop roughly or, alternatively, tear into bite sized pieces. 2. Peel the onion and cut in half. Slice finely and add to the lettuce. 3. Wash the green pepper. Cut the top off the pepper and remove the ribs and seeds. Cut in half and slice. Add to lettuce mixture. 4. Cut the cheese slices in half and stack, one on top of the other. Cut into 1/2" slices. Add to the lettuce. 5. Roll up a few slices of ham and slice finely into ribbons. Add to the salad. 6. Peel the boiled eggs and chop roughly. Top the salad with the boil egg and cooked, crumbled bacon if you are using it. 7. Cut your tomato in half then, over a bowl or the trash can, squeeze the tomato gently. This will remove most of the liquid and some of the seeds. Chop and add to the salad. 8. Serve chilled with Thousand Island, or your preferred, dressing.
Preparation: 1. Dice the boiled egg finely. 2. Mix the mayonnaise, ketchup, pickle relish, Worcestershire sauce and pepper together. 3. Add the egg to the mayonnaise mixture and mix to combine. Chill until ready to serve.