The Sleeper Salad


No matter how long I slave over the rest of the meal, I know exactly which dish will get the most praise when I have dinner guests: the salad. I'm always prepared for the curious questioning to begin—"Mmm, what's on this?" But I can tell that few expect the response: "Oil, salt, and pepper."

I started making these ridiculously plain salads when I lived in Rome. There, I was initially disappointed to learn what a standard "green salad" would get you in a restaurant: a plate of naked cut-up Romaine, along with a 1980s-looking caddy containing bottles of olive oil and vinegar, and shakers of salt and pepper. At first, I applied a little bit of everything to my salads, but the inevitable bites that bore too much vinegar were like getting punched in the jaw. Then I saw that one of my Roman officemates used nothing more than oil and salt. I tried it; how could something so stripped down be such a revelation?

It seems that people fall into one of two camps with salad: the Wishbone group, and the Homemade Vinaigrette set. In this context, the flavor of lettuce leaves with nothing more than a good olive oil and some salt can taste almost unplaceably innovative. And it doesn't have to be fancy lettuce, either—this "dressing" is just as good on heads of Romaine from the corner bodega that have seen better days as it is on the $8-a-pound purslane from the farmers' market. Give it a try.

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