Story and Photography by Lori Ross
When you’re anchored in a pretty little cove about mid-day, escaping the hot sun on your shaded fly bridge or aft deck, a beautiful, fresh salad with crisp, pale greens, ripe tomatoes and thin sliced radish married with bright vinaigrette is an oasis in the desert of mid-summer heat. Then, while spring or fall cruising, when the days are cool and crisp, imagine a lunch of heartier spinach with warm bacon dressing, or French green lentils tossed with warm sherry vinaigrette topped with grilled sausages.
My first salad memory took place at my family’s summer cottage in Maine in the early 1950s, when I watched my uncle, a Catholic priest who visited us every year, go through the ritual of making an authentic French vinaigrette, a skill he’d learned while living with a family and working in the French Resistance during WWII. At the bottom of a huge empty wooden salad bowl, he poured olive oil, and then tossed fresh greens from our garden. Next, he mixed mustard and red-wine vinegar with minced garlic, tossed the salad again, and finished it with salt, pepper and other fresh sliced thin. I became a salad convert!
On hot summer evenings my mother, a master of the mayonnaise-based salad (“Only use Hellmann’s, Lori!”), would arrange platters of fresh salad greens (dressed with a lemon and olive oil vinaigrette) topped with chicken, shrimp, lobster or tuna salads mixed with mayonnaise, salt and fresh ground pepper. Her best combinations were Chicken Grape Salad with celery, walnuts, green grapes and tarragon; Lemon Tuna Salad with celery, onions and lemon juice; Summer Lobster Salad with celery, parsley and chives; Dilled Shrimp Salad with scallions and chopped fresh dill. Now that I live in the Chesapeake Bay area, I’ve developed a fondness for blue crab salad spiced with a little Old Bay seasoning. Jim and I also use these salads in more finely chopped form for sandwich fillings – perfect with lettuce and tomato.
On the Greek Island of Mykonos, when I was a college student traveling in Europe, the beachfront restaurants served a Greek Salad like none I’d ever tasted at home – bite-sized chunks of perfectly ripe tomatoes, cucumber, peppers, red onions and black olives tossed with olive oil, oregano, lemon juice, salt, and pepper, and sprinkled with chunks of feta cheese. In France and Italy, I was awakened to the wide range of lovely raw-vegetable salads using the traditional vinaigrette proportions with the addition of fresh herbs, meats, cheeses, fruits and nuts, such as: Celeri Gruyere: diced celery, gruyere or Swiss cheese and walnuts with mustard, lemon and oil); Pear and Endive Salad: sliced endive, ripe pears, walnuts crumbled blue cheese with lemon juice and oil; Fennel Salad: sliced fennel, sliced apples, pine nuts shaved parmesan and red wine vinegar and oil; Salade DuBarry: raw cauliflower florets, sliced radishes, sliced scallions, watercress leaves, crumbled Roquefort with lemon juice and oil; Provencal Bean Salad: canned chickpeas or white beans, chopped onion, peppers, tomatoes, black-olives with lemon juice, white wine vinegar and olive oil.
When Jim and I started cruising, I found that keeping the right ingredients aboard provided an infinite variation of salads. Here are my staples: extra virgin olive oil; balsamic, red and white wine vinegars; lemon and lime juice and/or lemons and limes; anchovy paste; artichoke hearts; roasted red pepper; capers; calamata and manzanilla olives; black beans; cannelini beans; chickpeas; mayonnaise; Dijon mustard, tuna; dry pasta/noodles; kosher salt; pepper mill and whole pepper; dried Italian herbs, Asian fish sauce, crushed red chili pepper, pine nuts, pecans, and walnuts; sun-dried tomatoes; dried fruit; and real bacon bits.
Last year we headed to Florida down the Intracoastal Waterway and the weather was delightful – warm but not blistering with a light breeze and gorgeous sunsets every evening. Most days we dined on our favorite salads for lunch and dinner – Salad Nicoise (tuna, anchovies, onions, peppers, cucumbers, artichoke hearts, tomatoes and hard boiled eggs with oil, lemon juice, crushed garlic and chopped basil); Cobb Salad (finely chopped chicken, bacon, avocado, onion, tomato, hard boiled egg and blue cheese with mustard, red wine vinegar and oil): Arugula Salad (dressed with lemon-and-oil vinaigrette with pine nuts, parmesan shavings and topped with slices of pork or beef salami); Caesar Salad ( coddled eggs, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, freshly grated Parmesan cheese, croutons, salt and pepper and anchovies); Chef Salad blending protein (such as slices of left-over steak or tuna from a previous night’s restaurant dinner) and vegetables with a mustard, vinegar and oil dressing; Fresh Fruit Salad (cubed assorted fruit with a lemon/oil dressing or a mint sugar syrup); various Seafood Salads and of course my favorite Greek Salad.
Storage of salad ingredients aboard is a challenge for cruises longer than a week. Lettuce and fresh herbs stay fresh and crisp when washed, dried, layered on slightly damp paper towels, and stored in zip-lock bags or in large flat plastic containers in a cool (not coldest) part of the fridge. Vegetables and fruits that dehydrate or bruise easily such as cucumbers, peppers, endive, asparagus, zucchini, mushrooms, celery, carrots, radishes, peas, berries, and fresh beans are best stored in flat plastic containers to avoid banging them around in the ice box, or in plastic bags if they’re layered carefully. Other vegetables and fruits are best when not refrigerated but they must be protected from bruising and dehydration; these include tomatoes, pears, apples, citrus, onions, shallots, garlic, root vegetables, cabbage, radicchio, fennel, and avocado. Hanging nets and baskets in ventilated cabins work well for a couple weeks, but they need to be checked daily for sprouting, mold or dehydration.
The most essential salad tools in my galley are: a wooden salad bowl and utensils; salad spinner; wooden cutting board (easier on your good knives) paring and cook’s knives; plastic serrated knife (cuts salad greens without rusting them); food processor (for grating, chopping and making mayonnaise and other emulsified dressings); and a large platter for presenting composed or arranged salads.
In the United States we usually serve salad before the main course, but serving salad after a rich entrée cleanses and refreshes the palate, especially if you’re serving cheese and fruit as dessert. I regularly serve wine with salad, usually something a little fun and fruity to counter the acid and tartness of dressings. However, avoid serving your best wine with salad; it will be more difficult to taste the subtle layers of fine wine with the distraction of salad dressing. Here are a few combinations: Match salads flavored with lots of herbs to Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Serve spicy wines such as Zinfandel or Petite Syrah with sharp peppery greens; while croutons and nuts are best with oaky wines. Match grilled or roasted vegetables with rich Zinfandel, Pinot Noir and oaky Chardonnay. Salads made with white fruit match well with Riesling, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon or Gewurztraminer, while those with red or dried fruits need bright fresh flavors from such wines as Beaujolais, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache or Gamay. When you serve salty or spicy cheeses, meats and seafood, serve fruity and off-dry Reislings, Pinot Gris and French Roses, while blander cheeses, meats, poultry and fish match well with drier wines.
Start your salad adventures as I did, by mastering the blessed vinaigrette, and then experimenting with heartier ingredients. From there your repertoire of unique, delicious and creative salads will play a larger and larger role in your onboard mealtimes. A votre sante!
The Blessed Vinaigrette
This is an approximation (since my uncle never measure anything) of the original recipe which makes about 1/3 cup of dressing or enough to coat 2 heads of romaine lettuce or one whole bag of cleaned lettuce mix.
6-8 cups of salad greens
½ cucumber, seeded, quartered and sliced thin
½ red onion quartered and sliced thin
4 radishes sliced thin
¼ cup olive oil
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp Dijon mustard (e.g. Grey Poupon)
1 large clove of garlic minced or pressed
Salt, pepper to taste
Clean and dry salad greens and toss with olive oil. Add cucumber, radish and onion to salad bowl. Mix vinegar, mustard and garlic, pour into salad and toss again. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.
There are endless variations on this dressing and you will enjoy experimenting with the proportions and ingredients. The variations below are suggested because they have become favorites of my guests and family. If you want to taste the dressing before you serve it, mix it in advance and dip some of the lettuce leaves you plan to use into the dressing to taste it, and then adjust the seasoning or proportions.
• Fruitier salad dressing: replace red wine vinegar with lemon juice or raspberry or blueberry vinegar and omit the mustard and garlic
• Lighter salad dressing: replace red wine vinegar with white wine or champagne vinegar and omit the mustard
• Sweeter dressing: replace red wine vinegar with 1/2 tbsp of balsamic vinegar
• For very sharp tasting salad greens (e.g. arugula, endive, dandelion greens) try omitting the vinegar, mustard and garlic and use only olive oil and a few tbsps of crumbled sharp salty cheese such as Roquefort or feta
• For a special salad (this is my husband’s favorite), added shredded, grated or crumbled cheese (blue, goat, parmesan, Swiss) and some toasted or roasted nuts (walnuts, pecans, slivered almonds, pine nuts) and some fruit (diced apple, pear, apricots, peaches, plums or blueberries, raspberries, strawberries or dried chopped fruit such as apricots, figs, dried cherries)
• To make this salad an entrée, simply top it with warm or cold grilled, steamed or pan fried fish fillet, shrimp, scallops, boneless chicken breast, sliced filet mignon, squid, lobster or crab meat.
• For a truly elegant seafood salad, mix ½ cup each of cooked shrimp, scallops and squid plus 12 mussels or clams then marinate in the original vinaigrette replacing the vinegar with lemon juice. Serve on fresh arugula or bibb lettuce cups and top with dill and fresh ground pepper. (My sister in law serves this every Christmas as a first course!)
This recipe and its variations may also be used to dress almost any vegetable that may be eaten raw -- fennel, celery, thin sliced or julienne carrots, cabbage, cucumbers, radishes, broccoli, peppers, cauliflower and zucchini, tomatoes. I have also had success using it on warm vegetables such as: steamed asparagus, steamed carrots, boiled potatoes, and green beans, white and black beans.
Serves 4 as a salad course
Asian Cabbage or Noodle Salad with Chicken
This salad dressing is unusual in that it is equally wonderful on cabbage and cooked noodles, staples of many long-term cruisers. It has a light, sharp, bright, and spicy flavor that is absolutely addictive. I recommend thin or medium sized rice or bean thread noodles, but I’m sure it works well with wheat noodles too. Once again there are infinite variations to the ingredients in this salad, but my favorite is the following:
3 tbsps of fish sauce (also called seasoning sauce) available in the Asian food section of most chain grocery stores
2 tbsps of sugar
3 tbsps of lime juice
1 chopped red chili pepper (or ¼ tsp of crushed red chili peppers or chili oil or ½ tsp. of red chili past (Amore brand is in a convenient tube))
1 chicken breast cooked and shredded
1 small cabbage, cored, halved and shredded fine (any kind you like)
8 oz. (dry) of rice noodles or bean thread noodles, cooked and drained
1 carrot shredded or julienne
1 cucumber seeded and julienne or sliced thin lengthwise
½ cup fresh mint or basil leaves
3 tbsps of chopped fresh cilantro
2 tbsps of chopped unsalted nuts (any kind, although peanuts are traditional)
Mix dressing and stir until the sugar is dissolved and set aside. Prepare salad ingredients and place in large bowl. Toss salad with dressing and serve with quartered limes on the side.
• Vegetarian salad: Omit the chicken and add thin slices of pepper, onion, thin green beans, bean sprouts and cubed tofu
• Seafood: Top with warm grilled shrimp, scallops or squid for a real treat
• Beef: Top with thin slices of rare grilled beef for a heartier salad
• Milder salad: Omit the chili pepper and it makes a milder sweet and sour dressing for cole slaw
• Spicier Salad: Use fresh, raw jalapenos or Serrano chilies – fiery and cooling at the same time!
• Add arugula or watercress for a more complex salad
"Zesty Black Bean Salad" recipe
1 can of black beans
1 diced red onion
1 diced red pepper
1 diced green pepper
1 diced carrot
1/4 cup chopped fresh coriander (cilantro)
1 lime -- grated zest and juice
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 cup sherry wine vinegar, or cider vinegar with sherry
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp toasted cumin powder
2 tsp salt
pinch of cayenne
1/2 cup peanut or blended vegetable oil
Place all ingredients, except oil, in a small bowl. Whisk and slowly add oil to mix. Toss diced veggies, cilantro, beans, and vinaigrette in a large bowl. (A hand chopper is a great tool for this recipe, and very handy to have aboard.) This salad will keep refrigerated for two days. To serve it with real flair, bake small rounds of fresh chevre sprinkled with black pepper in a 400-degree oven till soft. Serve the cheese over the bean salad and greens.