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May 28, 2008

What is Salad? We Can Ponder, or We Can Eat


Let us concern ourselves with structure and form, and what constitutes what.


The question is difficult, no matter what applied to (at what point, for instance, does a collection of components render you an ice cream sundae?), but even stickier when we talk about wholesale replacement of ingredients. This stands out mostly when the question is posed, “What is salad?”


There may be a definition floating around somewhere, passed down from our ancestors, but our ancestors are at a disadvantage to enforce it. Since they are dead, we are free to throw off the yoke of their tyranny and do things as we best see fit.


In addition, recent years have seen a proliferation of not just salad ingredients, but kinds of salad available. We have salads constructed on a foundation of not greens, but things that are not even vegetables. That means noodles. It also means fruits.


Most reasonable people can agree that a salad needs a base ingredient. Imagine potato salad without potato. You can’t do it. But, fruit salad is more vague, vague to the point where it could suck the unwary in and crush them.


We assign as the base ingredient the first one added to the bowl. If one wishes to make a salad of tropical fruits, pineapple is an obvious choice, because it is reliably firm.


Most reasonable people agree that a salad must also have harmony, and not ingredients that might break into pointless bickering. This is accomplished well with ingredients from similar climate zones. To pineapple, you may wish to add fruits like banana, papaya and mango. You may consider orange sections, but this brings us to the question of dressing.


There is a question thus far unanswered, mostly because perhaps it has gone unasked. That is, why is this fruit salad, and not fruit cocktail? The answer is the absence of maraschino cherries, and the presence of what will be a light dressing.


Splash orange juice here and there on the salad. This will provide the light, citrusy taste while skirting the unspoken menace of oranges, which is the always-present danger of choking on a seed. Or, if it will help convince children or those generally opposed to healthy food, you may substitute chocolate syrup for the juice (this is fruit salad’s contribution to the ages-old conflict over dressings, and whether it is possible to prefer Ranch over vinaigrette and still be a good person).


We will also here throw a bone to those who might insist that salad is not a salad without shredded cheese. They are wrong, of course, but we are generous people who prefer unity over disharmony. Because cheese is rarely appropriate as a topping to fruit, we find an alternative in shredded fresh coconut. It has the advantage of being white, which allows it to at least have a cheese-like appearance.


This is as simple an answer as is possible for the question of what is salad. In fact, you could be forgiven if you decided to dodge the question altogether and simply eat the thing.


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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