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Skittish About Salad

February 16, 2010

Last week Mr. Sunshine critiqued my Valentine’s Day menu and suggested that it really could benefit from a salad.

I couldn’t disagree more.

But I understand that there are people who feel that a meal isn’t complete without a salad.  It’s just that I do not understand those people.

Now it’s not that I dislike salad.  Like anything else, I enjoy it when made well from good ingredients.  It is just that I prefer my vegetables cooked.  One time Mrs. Fussy blanched all of the vegetables for a crudité.  And they were so much more delicious after being touched with boiling water (especially the celery) that it is now difficult for me to enjoy a raw vegetable platter.

Sure, there are exceptions.  Some salad greens are delicious and tender when they are harvested at the peak of the season.  I suppose in some ways I view salad like sushi.  If I’m going to eat something raw, it really should be of the highest quality.

Jeffery Steingarten’s brilliant essay, “Salad the Silent Killer,” didn’t help either.

Steingarten argues that vegetables have evolved a “complex system of chemical warfare” over time to stave off predators.  Most of these defense mechanisms are thwarted with the simple act of cooking.   He goes on to say:

Generally speaking, there are four categories of chemical weaponry the salad deploys against its human predators: nutrition blockers, toxins, mutagens (which alter genetic material), and carcinogens (p. 178).

You will need to buy the book or check it out from your local library to read the full story.  But I do want to share with you the case Steingarten makes against raw spinach.

Nutrition blockers are chemicals that bind with some desirable vitamin or mineral and prevent your intestines from absorbing it.  My favorite is the oxalic acid in raw spinach, a vegetable exalted for its high content of calcium and iron. Oxalic acid, it seems, forms an insoluble complex with calcium and iron—not only the calcium and iron in the spinach itself but other sources of them as well—and renders uncooked spinach a non-nutritious green (p. 179).

But that is just one side of my salad triangle of doom.  The second side has to do with the manmade issue of pesticides.  You may or may not have noticed a section of the blogroll entitled “Important Food Resources.”  That list will grow, but if you click on Organic v. Conventional you will be whisked away to the Environmental Working Group’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides.

On that list you will see that of all the vegetables, lettuce has the third highest pesticide load.  The worst vegetable to buy conventionally is the bell pepper.  Organic bell peppers are crazy expensive, but those are the only kind I bring into the house.

Still, it is easy enough to find organic salad greens or locally grown greens that have come from a farm that utilizes far fewer pesticides as part of an integrated pest management approach.

But that brings up the final and most crazy side of my problem with salad.

Organic greens are dirty.  Which only makes sense, since they grow in the dirt.  Perhaps you picked up on my latent obsessive tendencies.  Well, I want to make sure that my salad greens are very clean.  And once they are clean, I want to make sure that they are very dry.

All of which is a ton of work.  And while I’m working on rinsing my greens in successive changes of water, and then meticulously drying each of the leaves, I have plenty of time to think.  Mostly I think about the Jeffrey Steingarten article.

Now is it any wonder I’m no great fan of salad?

9 Comments leave one →
  1. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    February 16, 2010 10:00 am

    Local, organically grown mache, frisee, arugula, tsatsoi? These should be avoided, or cooked? Wow, Mr. Fussy, you’re really “out there” on this one!

  2. February 16, 2010 11:27 am

    “Meticulously drying each of the leaves”

    Surely you jest. That’s what a salad spinner is for. I dump my greens from the salad spinner onto a cloth towel. While I am cooking the rest our dinner, they air dry. By the time dinner has been eaten, they are perfectly dry and ready to be tossed with a little dressing. We eat our salad at the end of the meal as some Europeans do. It’s thought to aid in digestion. For us it’s just organic salad greens dressed lightly in a homemade vinaigrette.

    If I am making a more complicated salad with greens and cheese and nuts or meat, we might eat it as a main meal or before the meal with the rest of the meal being small.

    Jeffrey Steingarten’s (have that book, by the way) argument may hold true spinach (and for more on the argument on raw vs. cooked vegetables see here http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=raw-veggies-are-healthier&page=2 but I rarely use spinach as a salad green. It’s heavy and bitter raw. I like my salads to be light and palate cleansing.

  3. Sarah M. permalink
    February 16, 2010 11:49 am

    WTF? So I’ve been forcing myself to eat spinach salads all this time for NOTHING?

  4. February 16, 2010 10:54 pm

    I once spent a day following the workers at Green Gulch Farm in Marin County. We picked greens and potatoes and washed them in so many changes of water you could not find the remotest speck of dirt. It was a devotional experience for these Zen folk.

    Profusser, those are the same perfect salad greens you are washing all over again. If you get them from a good source there is absolutely no need. None whatsoever. Stop this now.

  5. Jean Patiky permalink
    February 16, 2010 11:44 pm

    I LOVED THIS POST!!! Found it funny, well-researched and almost convincing….boy can that kid write!!!

  6. jess permalink
    February 17, 2010 3:03 pm

    I have to second the salad spinner. I love mine.

  7. Elyse permalink
    February 17, 2010 10:52 pm

    I just eat the dirty leaves. It’s good for you.

  8. February 18, 2010 10:17 am

    No, no. The dirty leaves are not good for you and I hope for your sake you are joking, Elyse. E coli has been found on pre bagged and “washed” ready to eat salad greens. People have gotten sick and died. I don’t care how well you know your farmer- wash your greens.

    I’m not a huge fan of single function kitchen implements but a salad spinner is a great one.

  9. Tonia permalink
    February 18, 2010 10:42 am

    I hate wet salad. And, I am hear to say, gasp, that I often do not wash my greens. Think about it peeps, do you really think running your vegetable under cold water is going to wash off bacteria, pesticides, chemicals? Nope. All that said, I only by extremely high quality and organic greens if they can be found during winter. Mostly I just wait until summer for my own garden. And yes those I RINSE because they are dirty with dirt. Salad items in the winter are just gross, for real. Thanks Professor for the nice post. I too like my crudites blanched…. crunchy green beans with a creamy basil dip. Yum.

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