Salad of Bitter Greens and 4 Dressings

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Ronnie Fein
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When it came my turn to take over the family Seders I prepared the same dishes that my mother had always prepared, and her mother, my grandma, before her. But I’ve always been a tinkerer in the kitchen and like to tweak recipes and invent new ones and even serve them for holidays. An entirely new dinner would be unthinkable of course, but one or two dishes – side dish or salad or dessert – well, why not? If my family likes it we have it again sometime. If not, there’s plenty of other food to eat.

One year I decided to create a new, exciting and complex-tasting version of Haroset. We tasted a tidbit during the reading, as commanded, and everyone loved it so much they wanted more with their dinner. Unfortunately I had only made enough for the symbolic portions. But every Passover since then I make gobs of my spicy date-and-apricot Haroset to have with the dinner, like a relish or chutney.

With that success behind me I made up my mind to tackle the bitter greens. I thought -- why just a nibble as a symbolic gesture? The Passover meal is always such a big, festive and filling one. Surely a salad, made with bitter greens would do well to lighten things up a bit and also reinforce our obligation to remember the bitter tears of slavery.

And so it has, for us. Bitter Greens Salad has become a most welcome treat for our family. I serve it after the entrée, to cleanse the palate and make us ever more ready for dessert a bit later.

Everyone in our family likes bitter greens, but they can be a little too astringent for people’s tastes. There is a solution: the whole salad needn’t be comprised of them if you don’t care for so much pungency. Take a tip from American chefs: soften the flavor somewhat by mixing bitter greens with a milder one. A handful of arugula and endive with Bibb lettuce or iceberg. Frisee or dandelion greens combined with Oakleaf lettuce. Today there’s so much fresh produce available we can use whatever bitter and mild greens we fancy.

Dressings for such a salad depend on which greens you use and on personal tastes of course. Use a standard vinaigrette dressing, an easy mix of olive or vegetable oil plus wine vinegar or lemon juice. Add chopped herbs to taste (dill, thyme, oregano, basil, rosemary and so on), to brighten things up. A bit of paprika for color. Maybe even a dollop or two of mayonnaise for enrichment or mashed avocado to give it a buttery taste and feel. Include a few tablespoonfuls of orange juice to sweeten the dressing somewhat. Of course there are wonderful dairy dressings too, when you need them.  Here are my favorites, Lemon Vinaigrette, Avocado Dressing, Mayonnaise Herb Vinaigrette or Balsamic Vinaigrette.

Here is more or less the bitter greens amount I include in my salad for about 10 people. Sometimes, depending on who’s coming to dinner I include the optional leaf lettuce. Occasionally I will also add shredded carrot or halved cherry tomatoes, just for color. Always dress a salad just 5-10 minutes before you serve them. If the greens and dressing sit together too long the salad will wilt and become soggy.

Happy Passover everyone!