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It's not so long ago that a salad served in a restaurant consisted of a selection of iceberg lettuce, cucumber slices and a few pale tomato wedges. The dressing was probably French or Italian. How far we've come!

Recently I've had the pleasure of enjoying salads with smoked salmon and blueberry compote, grilled vegetables and warm goat's cheese and salads brimming with so many exotic fruits that it could have passed for dessert. Salads are no longer just for the calorie conscious; they have evolved into satisfying meals that are both healthy and hearty or rich and decadent.

Although the salad has been elevated to a new high, it certainly isn't a new concept. I was quite surprised to discover that salads, defined as greens with a dressing (usually an oil, vinegar and salt combination) were enjoyed by ancient Romans and Greeks.

The word "salad" comes from the Latin herba salta or "salted herbs", so called because such greens were usually seasoned with dressings containing lots of salt.

As time passed, salads became more complex. Recipes varied by country and "dinner salads" were enjoyed during Renaissance times. Salads with layered ingredients became popular during the 18th century, and because they often contained fish or meat they were referred to as Salmagundi (a term we now associate with pickled herring). These salads, or salmagundis, would be very similar to today's chef salads.

As important as the ingredients are to a salad, it's often the dressing that sets the final notes. Store bought sauces and dressings were largely unavailable until the turn of the century. Home chefs had to start from scratch and, because of varied ingredients, the results were somewhat inconsistent.

Gradually, restaurants began packaging and selling their dressings to enthusiastic customers and the salad dressing industry was born. Many of the major brands today were introduced in the early 1920s. In 1925 the Kraft Cheese Company entered the salad dressing scene. With the purchase of several mayonnaise manufacturers, Kraft was able to produce and distribute the first "pourable" salad dressings. The first dressing they produced was "French" and it is still popular today.

Its interesting to note that although the selection of bottled salad dressings has evolved to include such exotic choices as Guava Mango and Watermelon Basil, we seem to have come full circle with many people preferring to make their own dressings at home, allowing them to utilize the freshest, healthiest ingredients available and compliment their salads in the best possible way.

Quick Tips for salads:

As with all greens, leaf lettuce should be washed and either drained completely or blotted with a paper towel to remove any excess moisture  before being refrigerated in a plastic bag. It will keep this way up to about 3 days.

If your salad includes fruit such as sliced apples, pears, and bananas, dip these ingredients in lemon juice to keep them from turning dark.

To keep your walnuts as fresh as possible store the in an airtight container in the freezer and only take out what you need.

Recipes featured in this article:

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