In college, meat was far too expensive to be consumed in quite the same way, but many a meal were still focused around those affordable cuts: hot dogs and pepperoni.
When I got married I fell back into the habit of centering all of our meals around the protein. Sides were always the afterthought. Many a time the side was only a salad of lettuce and ranch dressing.
Then I began to meet and dine with vegetarian friends and to read books such as Kingsolver's "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" and Michel Pollan's "Omnivore's Dilemma". I started to understand where most supermarket meat comes from and realized there were better options. I also came to realize that meat did not have to be the focus of every single meal. Through exploring these ideas I've also recognized that a salad can be the star of a meal itself. When well-balanced and well conceived it is a thing of beauty.
If you were able to sludge through the last few posts you may recognize this salad as the one we ate at Cuines de Santa Caterina and quite possibly the best salad I've ever had. The main components were obvious, although certain ingredients vary from what we can find here (I've never had such a light, almost sweet mushroom as on that salad--even though it looked like a plain button variety; and the "bacon" was similar to pancetta but had a definite richer flavor). The dressing I had to guess at and create all on my own--it was creamy, sweet and the ideal compliment to the other flavors. My version isn't quite the same, but it's close enough that we will be enjoying it over and over again this spring and summer--all on its own.
Mushroom, Bacon and Parmesan Salad
4 cups mixed salad greens
4 pieces cooked and chopped bacon
1/4 lb crimini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1/2 c. shaved Parmesan*
*Use your vegetable grater to shave off large, thin slices of Parmesan.
In a large bowl mix together the salad greens, bacon and crimini mushrooms. Pour the salad dressing over top and toss it all together. Top with the shaved Parmesan and serve immediately.
Creamy Sherry-Honey Dressing
1/4 c. honey
1/8 c. sherry vinegar
1/3 c. mayonnaise
1/2 t. mustard powder
1/3 c. olive oil
Whisk together all the ingredients into a small bowl until well combined. Taste for flavor and add a bit of salt and pepper if you would like.