There used to be a lovely restaurant in St. Louis called The Lettuce Leaf that served eight or ten different specialty salads. My sister “cooked” there for a while when I was in high school so I thought that by the time I had reached adulthood I knew how to make a pretty mean salad. Au contraire, habibi.
My husband makes a green salad that not only puts many in my repertoire to shame but contradicts most of the lessons I learned growing up about how to prepare a proper green salad. Nowadays, whether we’re planning a party, cooking Thanksgiving at my sister’s place, or making a meal for a friend at her family’s beach house, the request is always the same: “Make Lahab Salad.”
Wash one to two heads of romaine lettuce (depends how big they are). Cut off the heel and the very top of the leaves and peel off any outer layers that look brown or tired or generally unappetizing. Slice the remaining lettuce across the head into strips about as wide as your average finger. (I know. Forget what your mom told you about tearing instead of cutting lettuce).
The other vegetables in the salad are chopped into half-inch dice and you can use as many or as few of each as suits your palate. What I’ll include here is what we use for the average weekday dinner:
2-3 Roma tomatoes (or in winter, tomatoes on the vine)
1/2 large red onion OR one bunch of scallions
3-5 medium-sized kosher dill pickles OR similar amount of cucumbers (use the English or persian kind with the thin skins.)
1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds
salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup of crumbled feta cheese
1/2 can of slivered beets
1/2 can chick peas
1 teaspoon of Sumac (a reddish, lemony flavored spice available in middle eastern grocery stores)
My husband likes to toast the almonds while he cuts up the veggies. (We use the toaster oven, but you can use a dry pan on the stove just as well. ) He likes to put the feta cheese on top of the vegetables, then pour the warm almonds over the feta so it melts a little bit. After that he quickly pours over the dressing, which makes the salad emit a satisfying sizzle while it is tossed.
The dressing is exceptionally simple. Juice one lemon, add 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper to the lemon juice and whisk so the salt dissolves, then whisk in no more than about 1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil. Pour over salad, toss and serve.
The dressing takes a few tries to get right. When you taste it, the tastes of the oil, lemon and salt should be very equally balanced. Figure on about half as much oil as your midwestern mother probably told you was right for a salad. Maybe even less.
I’ve made this with other veggies and legume. I’ve also used red and green leaf lettuce, which replaces the sharp crunch of the romaine with a more velvety taste and texture. However I think this substitution calls for a less is more approach on the veggies as well.
Once dressed, this salad is usually only good for one meal. However, if it sits in the fridge overnight it sort of macerates and, if you pour off the liquid before you toss the solids, you end up with this delicious, lemony, veggie broth that adds a bit of tang to scrambled eggs and is a light delicious dip for a piece of crusty french bread.