As a young bride anxious to expand my culinary horizons, I always felt insecure about when to serve a salad. Some expert cookbooks I consulted, like my trusty and well-worn 1964 version of the "Joy of Cooking," gave confusing advice: Salad, it said, "used to appear almost invariably after the main entree but has taken these days to gadding about. In California, where people have a habit of doing things their own way, you may expect it on the table ready to eat when you sit down."

In those days, my impressions of California were associated more with hippies and movie stars than with fine dining. Not wanting to emulate either, I came to the conclusion that the opposite was more elegant and Continental, so I served the salads after the entree, like my idol Julia Child. I suspect my friends and family were a little puzzled. In my circle, vegetables cooked or raw were expected with the main course, not after it. Truth be told, I preferred my salad greens right on the same plate with the meat or fish, but I lacked the confidence to do things my own way, like those carefree Californians.

Today, I cannot help but think about my early salad dilemma whenever I am served sizzling meat, fish or poultry on or with a pile of crisp greens, quite a trend in restaurant cooking. I love the combination. The heat wilts the uncooked vegetables a little and the flavors of the salad and dressing mingle with the hot food and its juices.

I find it practical to cook that way at home, too, especially in summer. Something on a salad is a light, appealing, one-dish meal, and a quick way to cook after working all day, especially if I use pre-trimmed packaged salad greens. Another advantage is that I find I am satisfied with a smaller portion of meat served this way, since the salad fills me up.

One of my favorite salad dressings is the kind served in many Japanese restaurants, sharply flavored with ginger, green onions and soy sauce. I like to toss nutty baby greens with the mixture, then serve the salad topped with grilled chicken breasts glazed with a blend of sweet white miso paste, mirin (sweet Japanese rice wine) or sherry and soy sauce. All of these ingredients can be found in the Asian section of most supermarkets, or in an Asian grocery. Salmon or tuna steaks, if you prefer, can be substituted for the chicken. The spicy dressing really livens up the blandness of the chicken.

At New York City's I Trulli Restaurant, I always enjoy the tender octopus served on a salad of thin sliced fennel, orange wedges and black olives. The baby octopus, marinated with garlic, parsley, and olive oil is grilled until crisp and browned. The Sicilian-style fennel salad is dressed simply with fresh lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil. When I make this salad at home, I cannot always locate a small octopus so the chef, Mauro Mafrici, recommended squid as a substitute. I have even used fresh sardines with great success. In smaller quantities, this salad can be served as an appetizer, but I often make a whole meal of it.

Serving meat or fish with a salad is not at all unusual in contemporary Italian cooking. Veal alla Milanese, a pounded veal chop breaded and sauteed in butter, often is served with a fresh tomato salad that acts as a kind of sauce for the meat. And recently in the Alto Adige region of Italy, I was served a carpaccio of salmon on a lemony arugula salad. Though carpaccio usually refers to raw meat or fish, these thin salmon cutlets were quickly seared on one side. The pink salmon looks quite beautiful against the dark green arugula leaves.

Steak and salad is an unbeatable combination. I like to pan-fry small steaks and serve them sliced on the diagonal over a salad of watercress, radishes and green onions tossed with a blue cheese dressing. I like a full-flavored blue cheese for this salad, such as Maytag, Gorgonzola or Roquefort. For a milder flavor, substitute Saga blue.

Thick, juicy mushrooms are a fine substitute when you are not in a meat- or fish-eating mood. I broil or grill them, and serve them over tender spinach leaves with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese shavings and toasted pecans.

As good and easy as these combinations are to prepare and eat, I am just as happy when dinner is over since there are no salad plates to wash and put away!

Miso-Glazed Chicken With Ginger Salad

(4 servings)

The chicken can be marinated and the salad dressing can be made a day ahead of time and refrigerated until you are ready to assemble the dish.

For the chicken:

2 tablespoons white miso*

2 tablespoons mirin** (dry sherry may be substituted)

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 1/4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, thinly sliced

For the salad:

2 scallions (white and tender green parts), cut into 1-inch pieces

1 clove garlic

1/2-inch slice peeled fresh ginger root

2 tablespoons dark sesame oil

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

2 tablespoons water

8 cups mixed baby salad greens, washed and spun dry

For the chicken: Mix together the miso, mirin and soy sauce. Add the chicken breasts and turn to coat. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or as long as overnight.

For the salad: Place the scallions, garlic and ginger in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Add the sesame oil, soy sauce, rice vinegar and water and process until blended.

Preheat a grill or broiler.

Grill or broil the chicken until cooked through, about 2 minutes per side.

To assemble: Toss the salad greens with the dressing and divide among 4 plates. Top each salad with the chicken and serve immediately.

* Note: Miso is a fermented soybean paste that is used as a flavoring and thickener in Japanese cuisine. White miso is mild and sweet and dark miso is pungent and salty. Miso is available in the refrigerated section of Asian markets, some health-food stores and specialty markets.

** Note: Mirin is a sweet rice wine and is available in Asian markets and some large supermarkets.

Per serving: 253 calories, 35 gm protein, 6 gm carbohydrates, 9 gm fat, 82 mg cholesterol, 1 gm saturated fat, 502 mg sodium, 2 gm dietary fiber

Mauro's Grilled Baby Octopus With Fennel and Orange Salad

(4 servings)

This salad recipe was given to me by Chef Mauro Mafrici of New York's I Trulli Restaurant. Octopus is hard to find, and not to everyone's liking, so you can substitute squid or fresh sardines. Be sure to slice the fennel as thinly as possible, with a sharp knife, a mandoline or the very fine blade of your food processor.

For the octopus:

4 to 8 baby octopuses, cleaned (you may substitute squid)

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh Italian parsley

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

For the salad:

1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon lemon juice, or to taste

Salt to taste

2 or 3 navel oranges, peeled and sectioned

1 cup black olives, such as Gaeta

For the octopus: Rinse the octopuses, pat them dry and place them in a shallow bowl. Combine the oil, parsley, garlic, a pinch of salt and pepper to taste. Pour the mixture over the octopuses and marinate for at least 1 hour or as long as overnight.

For the salad: Remove the green stems from the fennel, reserving the feathery green leaves for garnish. Cut the fennel into quarters lengthwise and trim the core. Slice the quarters crosswise into very thin slices. (You should have about 3 cups.)

In a bowl, whisk together the oil, lemon juice and salt to taste. Add the fennel slices, orange sections, olives and fennel leaves, if using, and toss gently.

Arrange the grill or broiler rack close to the heat and preheat on high. Grill the octopuses, turning once, until browned and crisp, about 1 to 3 minutes per side, depending on the size of the octopus. To assemble: Arrange the salad on 4 plates and top with the octopuses.

Per serving: 549 calories, 55 gm protein, 30 gm carbohydrates, 23 gm fat, 793 mg cholesterol, 3 gm saturated fat, 536 mg sodium, 4 gm dietary fiber

Salmon Carpaccio

(4 servings)

In this recipe, salmon fillets are cut into very thin slices like cutlets and cooked briefly on 1 side. Have the fish market prepare the fish for you, or you can cut it yourself by carefully sliding a sharp carving knife at a 45-degree angle across a large piece of salmon fillet. It is something like slicing smoked salmon, though the pieces will be smaller. If arugula is not available, substitute watercress. Serve the carpaccio with a potato salad.

For the salad:

2 bunches arugula or watercress

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

For the salmon:

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 pound salmon fillet, skinned and cut into thin slices

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

For the salad: Rinse the arugula or watercress in several changes of cool water. Pinch off the tough stems and dry the leaves thoroughly in a salad spinner. Tear the greens into bite-sized pieces and place in a bowl. Set aside.

Whisk together the oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste; set aside.

For the salmon: Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over high heat. Add enough fish slices to make a single layer. Cook until lightly browned on the bottom but still slightly undercooked on the top, about 1 minute. With a large spatula, remove the salmon from the skillet and turn it, browned-side up, onto a serving platter. (The salmon will continue to cook even after it has been removed from the heat.) Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Repeat this procedure with the remaining salmon slices.

To assemble: Toss the arugula with the dressing. Pile the salad on top of the salmon slices and serve immediately.

Per serving: 239 calories, 23 gm protein, 1 gm carbohydrates, 16 gm fat, 62 mg cholesterol, 2 gm saturated fat, 136 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber

Veal Chops Milanese

(4 servings)

Any type of ripe juicy tomatoes can be used here, but lately I have been using the deep red and flavorful grape tomatoes. They look like elongated cherry tomatoes but are less watery and have a great tomato flavor. I like to serve these chops as they do in Milan, with braised escarole.

For the veal:

1 cup fine dried bread crumbs, preferably homemade

2 eggs

1 teaspoon salt

4 thin veal rib chops, bone-in

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

For the salad:

1 pint grape tomatoes, halved or quartered

1 bunch arugula, washed and trimmed

2 slices red onion, finely chopped

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

For the veal: Spread the bread crumbs on a plate. Beat the eggs with the salt. Place the veal chops between 2 sheets of wax paper. With a rolling pin, gently pound the meat to about 1/3-inch thick, being careful to avoid the bone. Dip the chops in the egg mixture, then in the bread crumbs, patting the chops to coat completely. Place the chops on a rack to dry for 10 minutes. (This will help the crumbs to adhere to the chops.)

For the salad: Toss together the tomatoes, arugula, onion, oil, vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter with the oil. Add the chops and cook until the exterior is browned and crisp yet the inside is still pink, about 4 minutes per side. (If your skillet is not large enough to fit all of the chops in a single layer, cook the meat in 2 batches or use 2 skillets.)

To assemble: Place a chop on each serving plate and spoon the salad on top. Serve immediately.

Per serving: 341 calories, 31 gm protein, 18 gm carbohydrates, 16 gm fat, 153 mg cholesterol, 3 gm saturated fat, 404 mg sodium, 2 gm dietary fiber

Peppercorn Steak With Watercress and Blue Cheese Salad

(2 servings)

For the steak:

1 tablespoon freshly cracked black pepper, or to taste

2 well trimmed hangar, sirloin strip or boneless rib steaks, about 3/4-inch thick (12 to 16 ounces total)

Coarse salt to taste

For the salad:

1/2 cup Maytag blue cheese, crumbled

2 tablespoons white-wine vinegar

1/4 cup yogurt or milk

Salt and pepper to taste

1 small bunch watercress, washed and trimmed (about 4 cups)

6 radishes, thinly sliced

2 scallions, thinly sliced

For the steak: Place the peppercorns in a plastic bag. Place the bag on a cutting board and gently pound the peppercorns with a rolling pan or mallet. Spread half of the crushed peppercorns on a piece of wax paper. Place the steaks on top of the pepper and press with the heel of your hand. Turn the steaks over and repeat.

Heat a well-seasoned cast-iron or nonstick skillet over high heat until a drop of water bounces when it hits the pan. Add the steaks and cook until browned on 1 side, about 1 minute. Turn, salt the browned side and brown the second side. Turn the steak again and sprinkle with salt. Cook for about 2 minutes longer for medium rare. Transfer the steaks to a plate and set aside. Drizzle the steak juices over the meat.

For the salad: Mash the blue cheese with the vinegar and gradually stir in yogurt or milk until the consistency is like a dressing. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Toss together the watercress, radishes and scallions. Pour the dressing over the vegetables and toss well.

To assemble: Arrange the salad on 2 plates. Slice the steaks at an angle and fan the slices over the salad. Serve immediately.

Per serving: 504 calories, 61 gm protein, 6 gm carbohydrates, 25 gm fat, 137 mg cholesterol, 13 gm saturated fat, 764 mg sodium, 2 gm dietary fiber

Mushroom, Spinach, Pecan and Parmigiano Salad

(4 servings)

For the mushrooms:

4 large portobello mushrooms, stems removed

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon olive oil

For the salad:

8 ounces spinach leaves, washed and spun dry

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1/3 cup toasted pecans, coarsely chopped

Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for garnish

For the mushrooms: Preheat the grill or broiler. Wipe the mushrooms with damp paper towels and set aside.

Combine the soy sauce, lemon juice and oil. Brush the mixture over the rounded top sides of the mushrooms. Grill or broil (with the rounded top sides facing the heat) until brown, about 4 minutes. Turn the mushrooms and brush the gill sides with the remaining liquid. Grill or broil (gill-sides up) until tender, about 4 minutes.

For the salad: Remove the stems from the spinach leaves. In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste. Add the dressing to the salad and toss well. Add the pecans and toss again.

To assemble: Arrange the mushrooms on 4 plates. Pile the salad on top. With a swivel-blade vegetable peeler, shave thin slices of the cheese over the salad. Serve immediately.

Per serving: 267 calories, 11 gm protein, 7 gm carbohydrates, 22 gm fat, 11 mg cholesterol, 5 gm saturated fat, 548 mg sodium, 8 gm dietary fiber