Although the ancient Greeks and Romans did not use the word “salad,” they enjoyed a variety of dishes with raw vegetables dressed with vinegar, oil and herbs. Pliny the Elder, in Natural History, for instance, reported that salads (acetaria) were composed of those garden products that “needed no fire for cooking and saved fuel, and which were a resource to store and always ready” (Natural History, XIX, 58). They were easy to digest and were not calculated to overload the senses or stimulate the appetite.
The food writer, Marcus Apicius, of the first century C.E. offered several salad recipes, some of which were unusual. His recipe for bread salad:
Cover the bottom of a large salad bowl with bread, then add layers of sliced chicken, more bread, sweetbreads, shredded cheese, pine nuts or almonds, cucumber slices, finely chopped onions, then finish with another layer of bread. A dressing made of celery seed, pennyroyal, mint, ginger, coriander, raisins, honey, vinegar, olive oil and white wine is poured over the salad.
Another dressing Apicius used on lettuce was a cheese sauce that included pepper, lovage, dried mint, pine nuts, raisins, dates, sweet cheese, honey, vinegar, garum (fish sauce), oil, wine and other ingredients.
Other Roman salads were similar to present-day ones, such as lettuce and cucumbers or raw endive dressed with garum (fermented fish sauce), olive oil, chopped onion and vinegar or a dressing of honey, vinegar and olive oil. Roman salad dressings eventually became more complex. Apicius gave a recipe for one containing ginger, rue (herb), dates, pepper, honey, cumin and vinegar.
With the fall of Rome, salads were less important in western Europe, although raw vegetables and fruit were eaten on fast days and as medicinal correctives. In his 1699 book, Acetaria: A Discourse on Sallets, John Evelyn attempted with little success to encourage his fellow Britons to eat fresh salad greens. Mary, Queen of Scots, ate boiled celery root over greens covered with creamy mustard dressing, truffles, chervil and slices of hard-boiled eggs.
The United States popularized mixed greens salads in the late 19th century. Several other regions of the world adopted salads throughout the second half of the 20th century. From Europe and the Americas to China, Japan and Australia, salads are sold in supermarkets, at restaurants and at fast food chains. In the US market, restaurants will often have a “Salad Bar” laid out with salad-making ingredients, which the customers will use to put together their individual salad.
While we may not want to make Apicius’ salad, adding some different ingredients can bring new life to your old salad.
Insalata Nizzarda – Italian Version of Nicoise Salad
- 4 large eggs
- 2 tablespoons small capers, rinsed
- Two 7 oz jars or cans of tuna in olive oil, drained and the oil reserved
- 4 salted anchovy fillets, halved lengthwise
- 3 ripe plum, cores removed, cut into wedges
- 1/2 cup pitted green or black olives
- 4 cups arugula
- Extra virgin olive oil added to drained tuna oil to equal 6 tablespoons
- 1 ½ tablespoons lemon juice
- Sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
Bring a medium pan of water to a boil, add the eggs, and boil for 10 minutes, drain and cool in cold water.
Drain the oil from the tuna and add enough olive oil, if needed, to the tuna oil to measure 6 tablespoons. Break the tuna into chunks or coarse flakes.
Whisk the tuna oil, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste and the capers in a large deep salad bowl, one that gives you enough room for tossing once you have layered all the ingredients.
Add the tuna to the dressing and turn to coat everything. Lay the anchovy fillets on top, then the tomatoes and the olives.
Pile the arugula on top. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a cool place.
To serve, shell and quarter the eggs. Gently turn the salad over a couple of times and arrange the eggs on top.
- 2 cups shelled fresh or frozen green peas
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- Freshly ground pepper
- 3 slices bacon
- 2 slices crusty bread, cut into small cubes
- 2 cups fresh torn lettuce leaves
- 2 ounces grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
If using frozen peas just defrost them. Do not boil.
Boil fresh peas 6 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water.
Combine olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. Whisk well.
Cook bacon until crispy. Remove from the pan. Toss bread cubes in drippings and cook until crispy.
Combine peas, lettuce, vinaigrette and bread cubes. Top with cheese.
Strawberry Salad with Pine Nuts and Avocado
- 1 ripe avocado, preferably Hass variety, peeled, pitted and diced
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1 cup (heaping) strawberries, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, walnut oil or hazelnut oil
- 2 tablespoons raspberry vinegar
- 2 teaspoons honey
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cups baby arugula
- 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
Combine avocado with lemon juice in a large nonreactive bowl. Add berries, oil, vinegar, honey, salt and pepper and combine well. Place arugula on a serving plate. Top with avocado mixture and pine nuts. Serve.
Spinach, Grape and Feta Salad
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 4 cups baby spinach
- 1 cup red grapes, cut into halves
- 1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
- 2 tablespoons sliced, skin-on almonds, toasted
- 2 green onions (light green and dark green parts only), finely chopped
Whisk mustard and vinegar in a small bowl. While whisking, slowly drizzle in olive oil; add salt and pepper.
Toss spinach, grapes, feta, almonds and green onions in a large bowl. Pour dressing over salad, toss to combine and serve.
Chicken Salad with Zucchini and Pine Nuts
- 1/4 cup dried cherries, chopped
- 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
- Finely grated zest of 1 lemon, plus juice of 2 lemons
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- 3 medium zucchini (2 pounds), cut into 3-by-1/2-inch sticks
- 1 large shallot, minced
- 1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
- 3 tablespoons pine nuts
- 2 cups lightly packed baby arugula leaves
In a large nonreactive bowl, combine 2 tablespoons of the olive oil with the garlic, oregano, lemon zest, half of the lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Add the zucchini and cherries and toss to coat. Let stand at room temperature for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, in a large, shallow glass or ceramic dish, combine the minced shallot with 2 tablespoons olive oil and the remaining lemon juice. Add the chicken breast halves, turning to coat thoroughly with the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour, turning a few times.
In a small skillet, toast the pine nuts over moderate heat, tossing a few times, until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a plate and let cool.
Remove the chicken breast halves from the marinade, scraping off the shallot. Slice the chicken on the bias 1 1/2 inches thick and season with salt and pepper.
In a large skillet, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the chicken slices and cook over moderately high heat, turning a few times, until lightly browned and cooked through, about 8 minutes.
Transfer the chicken to a large, shallow serving bowl and let cool slightly. Add the marinated zucchini, toasted pine nuts, arugula and toss lightly. Serve immediately