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During these salad days, let us entertain you

When it’s too hot to cook, the Monitor’s language columnist considers how salads really are worth their salt.

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When it's too hot to cook, the Monitor's language columnist considers how salads really are worth their salt.

I'm going to start by admitting this is maybe not a burning question – the burning questions are being answered out on the deck, where our host is wrestling an enormous rack of ribs into submission on the grill.

So call this a leafy green question instead: How can the word salad be applied to so many different kinds of dishes?

As we wind down a summer that's included a lot of salads for dinner on nights when it's been too hot to cook, the question has loomed larger.

In my earliest childhood, a "salad" was a small dish of iceberg lettuce adorned with what was known as "French dressing." (Many visits to France over the years have failed to turn up this latter substance there, however.) As my gastronomic horizons expanded, "salad" came to include the while-you-wait "house salad" that comes with dinner at middle-class restaurants across the country.

Then there's the kind of salad that isn't "before dinner"; it is dinner: You know, the grilled chicken Caesar and its legions, including the steak salad. There's the potato salad; pasta salad; shrimp, crab, and even lobster salad, as well as "seafood salad," which isn't quite any of the foregoing, although there is a family resemblance. There's even the German "sausage salad" (Wurstsalat) dimly remembered from my student days in the Rhineland.

How can they all be salad? What is the point of commonality here?


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