The most delicious salad I ever tasted was prepared at my table in the dining room of the Fiesta Palace in Mexico City. The waiter painstakingly rubbed garlic and anchovies into the bowl until they fell apart, then whisked in imported wine vinegar and top-grade vegetable oil, sprinkled it with parmesan cheese and then added, as is customary with a caesar salad, a one-minute coddled egg. Each leaf of crisp romaine lettuce was quickly bathered in the dressing. Sprinkled with homemade croutons, the salad tasted as carefully prepared as a raspberry souffle.
Few Washington restaurants go to these extremes in salad-making, even caesars, but many offer luscious bouquets of greens, sometimes mingled with other cold vegetables and tinged with lively dressings. Some have tales behind them.
When Blackie Auger opened the doors of his Minute Grill in 1946, across the street from his present Blackie's House of Beef, he realized that he had forgotten to prepare a salad dressing for his arriving guests.
"In those days," he reminisced recently, "American palates would not have liked my family's simple Greek vinegar and oil dressing."
Rifling through his refrigerator, Auger pulled out jars of mayonnaise, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, tomato juice and vinegar. Locating the blue cheese and garlic, and vaguely measuring as he went along, he put all the ingredients into a large jar, shook them, tasted the mix and poured the finished product over chopped romaine and iceberg lettuce. Blackie's Blue Cheese House Dressing was born.
At the Cantina d'Italia, the green olive oil dressing comes from a classic sauce chef-owner Joseph Muran de Assereto found in his native Liguria. He uses only olive oil and green herbs -- tarragon, sage, basil, majoram and thyme -- with garlic.
Some Washington restaurants now maintain herb gardens of fresh tarragon, basil or marjoram. Others rely on fresh herbs from herb gardens in Virginia and Maryland. Whatever the dressing, oils and vinegars must be top grade and garlic and herbs fresh whenever possible. Use a whisk to combine the ingredients. (If you don't have a whisk, a food processor will do.)
Greens -- romaine, watercress, endive, chicory and, if you must, iceberg -- should be clea, crisp and cold, torn with the hand rather than a knife. Dry the greens carefully.
This summer, crunch your way through your favorite restaurant's salad or try the following recipes at home.Whichever dressings you choose, bathe -- don't drown -- your greens in the dressing. Remember the adage, "Be a spendthrift with oil and a miser with vinegar," and, for a lucky salad, turn the greens over at least 13 times. La Brasserie's House Classic French Dressing Makes 1 1/2 cups Salt to taste Pepper to taste 1/3 cup red wine vinegar aged in oak barrels 1 diced shallot 1 teaspoon fresh tarragon 1 heaping teaspoon Dijon mustard 1 egg yolk (optional) 1/2 cup walnut oil 1/2 cup peanut oil
Dissolve the salt and pepper in the vinegar in a large mixing bowl. Using a whisk, stir in the shallot, tarragon and mustard. For a creamier French dressing, add an egg yolk. Slowly pouring in the oil, whisk until smooth. Adjust seasoning and add a combination of chicory, romaine and Boston lettuce. If you like, add walnuts, diced endives and watercress. Using a salad fork and spoon, toss 13 times until leaves are well dressed.
La Brassirie has its own backyard herb garden including marjoram, thyme, mint and even violets and nasturtitums for taste and color. Cantina d'Italia's Classic Oilo Verde alla Ligure (Green olive oil dressing in the style of Liguria) Makes 1 cup 1 cup top quality virgin olive oil 1 generous handful fresh basil leaves 4 tablespoons fresh tarragon leaves 2 tablespoons fresh sage leaves or 1 tablespoon dry sage 2 tablespoons fresh marjoram (or 1 teaspoon dry) 2 tablespoons fresh thyme (or 12 teaspoons dry) 1 clove crushed garlic Salt to taste
Place all the ingreidents in a glass bowl uncovered at room temperature overnight. In the morning put through a food mill, adjust taste and serve this slightly green dressing over the greens of your choice.
Joseph Muran de Asserto, chef-owner of La Cantina, serves this dressing over a combination of arugola and fennel or spinach and mushrooms. He also uses it as a sauce over fresh pasta. Piccadilly's Caesar Salad Dressing Serves 3 1/2 teaspoon salt 4 small or 2 large peeled garlic cloves 3 strips anchovy filets 1/4 teaspoon dry mustard 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce 3 tablespoons vegetable oil 1 bunch romaine lettuce 2 tablespoons imported parmesan cheese or to taste 2 teaspoons homeade croutons 6 twists of the peppermill 1 coddled mill
Add the salt to the bottom of a ceramic or glass salad bowl. Using a fork and spoon press the garlic into the salt, mashing well. Press in the anchovy strips. Add the mustard, Worcestershire sauce, vegetable oil and wine vinegar, whisking well after each addition.
With your fingers, break the washed romaine lettuce. Add to dressing. Sprinkle on top parmesan cheese and the croutons. Add pepper and the coddled egg. Toss 13 times until well blended. Serve immediately.
Variations on the theme of caesar salad are diverse, but the salad must be prepared at the last munite, usually at the table. Blackie's House of Beef Blue Cheese Dressing Makes 2 cups 1 cup mayonnaise 1/3 cup tomato juice 1/4 cup thick California ketchup 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce 2 tablespoons white vinegar 1 large clove fresh crushed garlic Salt to taste
Combine all the ingredients well, cover and refrigerate at least one day before serving. Serve over well-washed and hand-cut romaine and iceberg lettuce with grated onion and carrot. Samurai Sushi's Japanese Dressing for Cold Cooked Spinach Serves 4 10-ounce bag fresh spinach 1 tablespoon white sesame seeds 4 tablespoons rice vinegar 1 tablespoon soy sauce 1 tablespoon white sesame seeds
Clean the spinach well with water. Boil for just a minute until wilted in boiling water. Drain extremely well. Set aside to cool.
Dry-cook the sesame seeds in a heavy frying pan over medium heat for about a minute. Using a mortar and pestle mash well. Toss with the vinegar and soy sauce over the drained spinach.