Liberty Salad

24 October 2008

I’ve written before about one of the "culture shock" things I experienced when we went to China:  a lack of salad.  When I found out I was going to live in China, I asked one of my expat friends for advice.  He replied, "The first six weeks you’ll love it, because everything is different.  The next six months, you’ll hate it, because everything is different.  After a year, you’ll start to figure out whether you like it or not." 

What he said was true.  It was even true where it came to salad.  Where I live in the USA, people generally have access to fresh greens (often from their own gardens) from mid March through December.  My family eats something fresh and raw, often green, at every meal  (link here to previous entry).  It was different in China.

The first six weeks, I really enjoyed sampling all the wonderful Chinese cuisines.  The next four years, I pined for salad.  With its frequent lack of anything crispy and fresh, and often absence of anything cold from the meal, I think of Chinese food as somewhat wilty and overcooked, and having strong flavors (even though this overgeneralization is not strictly true).  As delicious as lettuce may be when it’s blanched and then stir fried, it’s just never going to be the same as a fresh, raw, cold, crunchy salad.    

It’s a good idea not to eat salad in China, especially for a tourist.  Bearing in mind that the vegetables are fertilized with human waste, and that tap water is not clean, and that a relatively large percentage of the population are carriers of Hepatitis A, it’s no wonder that most Chinese don’t eat too much salad.  A friend of mine makes a living by consulting restaurants on how to cook western style food.  She is particularly adamant that one should not eat salad in China, unless one has personally inspected the kitchen.  She told me, "you wouldn’t believe what goes on in the kitchen."  She tells stories of salads being prepared on the same chopping block, with the same knives, as the raw meat.  Rats and cockroaches in kitchens (I’ve personally seen both of these). 

Yep, you certainly need to be careful where you eat, or else make sure the food has steam coming off of it (to guarantee it’s been hot enough to kill germs, which still won’t help you if you’re at very high altitude where water boils at lower temperature).  Uhm, ever wonder why the folk wisdom also says never drink anything that hasn’t been served to you boiling hot? 

Of course I did fix salads, but it was never quite the same.  Perhaps part of that "not quite the same" feeling is because of all the extra preparation it took for me to prepare it in China. 

In the USA, I often grow my own salad greens.  If not, I can usually purchase lovely lettuces.  The greens in the Chinese markets are much more varied and often appear superior to the greens in ordinary USA markets.  The Chinese grow the most beautiful Romaine lettuces, which they blanche and then toss in a hot skillet with some soy sauce and garlic. 

I would purchase these Romaine lettuces and make salad out of them.  But I’d wash them much more thoroughly than I might have done in the USA. 

Generally, I would wash once in tap water to get the mud and grime off, then rinse again in tap water.  After this, I would rinse at least once if not twice in bottled water to make sure any little germs were washed away.  It is also advisable to put a few drops of chlorine bleach in the wash water.  (Some of my European and Aussie friends soak it in iodine water.)  So, making salad in China is a bit more of a chore. 

The first summer we were home in the USA, I couldn’t get enough of good salad.  Wow, what a convenience, the salad greens can even be purchased prewashed, in bags! 

But to my amazement, by the fourth summer, I found that I didn’t have the same level of pining for salad as previously.  I suppose that over the course of four years, I had lost some of my habit of eating salad, so that I didn’t miss it quite so much. 

Nevertheless, there’s nothing like a good salad.  This summer my daughters and I developed a salad recipe that’s as good as any.  Because of the colors — red, white, and blue — we decided to call this a "Liberty Salad".  It’s very pretty.  The colors of the American flag are laid over top of the rich green of the spinach.  It’s wonderful on a hot, summer evening.  Make it on salad plates, as individual servings.

Here is the recipe:

For each serving use: 

1.5 oz fresh, sliced strawberry

1.5 oz fresh blueberry

1.7 oz fresh, crisp spinach leaves

garnish with crumbled, white goat cheese

Top with a small amount of rasberry vinaigrette dressing

(To make the rasberry vinaigrette dressing, mix about three parts rasberry jam with one part balsamic vinegar)

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