I have a deep and profound fear of raw vegetables. I love all manner of cooked vegetables, but a salad rarely fills me with joy. I tend to view it as something dark and evil. I think it may be a cultural thing, because I grew up Chinese, (more or less), and the only thing raw on a Chinese table was the occasional lettuce cup cradling a heaping spoonful of minced pork stir-fried with tofu and bits of crunchy vermicelli. Oh, sure, there were celery sticks in my lunch bag (filled with peanut butter), and vegetable trays filled with carrots and celery and broccoli and cauliflower florets, with some kind of creamy dressing as a dip, but then, the former is just an excuse to eat peanut butter and the latter is just an excuse to eat lots of dip. Salad, in my home, was completely unheard of, unless you count tuna fish sandwiches and potato salad from a plastic tub. Which I don't.
Of course, I grew up in the late 80's (limp, watery iceberg tossed with sad little tomatoes) and the 90's (mixed greens with walnuts and goat cheese). Culinary ventures into worlds where salad infested the menu like an overgrown meadow were rare, and as far as I can remember I never ordered salad if I could help it at all. (And would you like soup or salad with your meal? Soup). Although I must admit that I cannot resist anything that comes with a warm bacon vinaigrette or sautéed chicken livers (or both).
The only great salad I remember eating was at a small café in the Pike Place Market, Café Campagne. We often went there on weekends for brunch, for omelettes and terrines of pâté served with crusty bread and locally-made sausages. They made a perfect quiche - the crust flaky and crisp, the custard filling creamy and eggy and silky, spiked with chunks of onion and bacon. A slice of quiche appeared on a pristine white plate with a pile of what appeared to the naked eye to be a pile of undressed greens. No goopy dressings, no nuts, no cheese, no wayward lardons or crumbly bits of cheese. Just a heap of delicate mixed greens, mâche, perhaps, arugula, frisée, pale green and sweet and tender and just barely caressed with a touch of oil, a whisper of vinegar or lemon, to bring out the bright flavor of the salad itself. It changed my mind about salad, which was a great pity, because in all the years since I have not had one that came close.
My exception to this great fear of raw vegetables and salad, is, of course, Caesar salad. Torn romaine leaves (although these days it is trendy for restaurants to leave the leaves whole, and to shave the Parmeggiano-Reggiano into frail chips, which is the wrong way to do it; the cheese needs to be grated so it will stick to the dressing and thicken everything) tossed with a creamy, garlicky dressing (with or without anchovies). Sometimes I make this at home, with a coddled egg and good light olive oil and homemade croutons. But tonight, it is pizza time, and soon some young punk is going to show up at my door with pizza topped with all sorts of interesting things, and a Caesar salad, cool and crisp and perfuming the air with a cloud of garlic. I plan to steal most of the croutons, which absorb the dressing and manage to be soggy and crunchy all at once, the perfect end to the evening.