THIS SALAD is only good with Panic Dressing, developed one night when I had 24 people to feed and only a half-hour to do it. It was for a party at a friend's house. She was in charge of the main course: I had the salad.

The problem was that I'd come home too late to do anything elegant. Desperation took over. I bought 12 heads of bibb lettuce, 5 bunches of watercress, then rummaged through the refrigerator for something to throw in the dressing.

Here's what I came up with:

A lot of olive oil.

Not quite so much white or red wine vinegar or both.

Not quite so much white wine.

A little water.

A little orange juice.

A teaspoon or so of dijon mustard.

A pressed clove or two of garlic.

A healthy amount of curry.

A little lemon juice.



I threw it all together in a big jar, tasting as I went along. I stopped concocting when I liked it.

Meanwhile, the salad itself: It's impossible to clean and dry 12 heads of bibb lettuce and 5 bunches of watercress in a hurry. So I dumped it all in the sink, rinsed it, then threw it into the washing machine and put it on the spin cycle. It worked miraculously until I tasted it: Gain detergent, left over from the last time I did the laundry. So I had to wash the lettuce again, this time using every towel in the apartment to dry it.

It still tasted a little funny, but I figured the dressing was spicy enough to cover it up.It was.

Nobody got sick. In fact, everybody really liked it.