So I’m in the kitchen the other day, making myself an egg salad sandwich out of hard-boiled eggs I made Easter morning. (They’re not officially “Easter eggs,” because they were as white as they were when they came out of the chicken.) And as I’m prone to when I’m cooking, I started pondering the mysteries of the universe, which is why I burn so much toast (and other things).
The mystery du jour was the entire concept of “egg salad,” which led to the question, “What exactly IS a salad?” I mean, in addition to egg salad, there’s green salad, and jello salad, and ambrosia salad, and ham salad, and chicken salad, and tuna salad, and fruit salad, Caprese salad, potato salad, so many salads that at this point that the word “salad” has lost all meaning for me on the page here, and so many of them have nothing in common with the rest of them. How in the world can they all be salads? What makes a salad?
Is it dressing? Fruit salad usually doesn’t have dressing. Neither does jello salad. I guess Miracle Whip is technically a salad dressing, but I’ve never once in my life put it on a green salad, which is kind of my standard for salad. Sometimes balsamic vinaigrette is a dressing, and sometimes it’s a merely a condiment or a garnish. It can’t be dressing…dressing is too ambivalent itself about what it is to be the defining factor in a salad.
Is it the inclusion of at least one fruit or vegetable? That covers a lot of salads, and many people include celery, walnuts, and apples in chicken salad. But my recipes for tuna and egg salad don’t have either.
Is “salad” merely a catchall term for any melange of random things that isn’t a casserole, or a trifle, or some other accepted name? Are salads and casseroles fundamentally the same thing, different only in serving temperature? Potato salad is cold, but German potato salad is usually served warm. Does that make it a salad, or a casserole? Or some unholy hybrid we probably should never mention again? Why is cole slaw a salad, but sauerkraut not?
We take these things for granted, name them without any consideration of the fact that words mean things, when in fact “salad” may not mean anything concrete that we can run with without fear of equivocation. Because the truth is, a Cobb salad and ambrosia salad are in no way related, despite sharing a family name.
Seriously, what constitutes a salad? Do you know?