There was a time in my life when salads were a type of punishment. As a teen, I would routinely eat minuscule salads every night, iceberg lettuce drizzled in flavorless fat-free Italian dressing (15 calories per serving!). I discovered ranch dressing around the age of 16 at my first waitressing job, and didn’t learn about arugula until I was twenty-three when I worked at a higher end French cafe in New York. It opened up a whole new world (cue the song, please).
At the age of 18, I lived in New York with several lovely ladies. A few of them knew how to cook, or were at least good at having real food around. I was at a loss for how to put together proper meals. My undeveloped 18-year-old brain just couldn’t fucking handle it. I mostly ate canned clam chowder, breakfast cereal, bagels from a street cart, sandwiches, and the occasional salad. Now, let’s be clear about these salads. They consisted of iceberg lettuce (ew), pre-shredded cheddar cheese (ew), croutons (fuck yes!), and ranch dressing. If I was feelin’ fancy, I’d throw a boiled egg on top, or maybe even a microwaveable vegan chicken patty.
I took home-ec in high school, and vaguely remember learning how to make scrambled eggs in a microwave (WHY) and rice crispy treats. But no one ever taught me how to make a meal with raw ingredients. Outside of eggs, the first “proper” meal I learned how to make consisted of cream of chicken soup, white rice, chicken breasts, and a packet of dried onion soup mix. I was just fucking stoked to be using the oven at all. Seriously, what was the point of home-ec?!
In fact, I was so clueless about food that I literally purchased a head of cabbage instead of lettuce on one of my first shopping trips in New York. My mom had always purchased it for me, so I didn’t know the difference. It gets worse. I proudly took that head of cabbage home with me and immediately made a salad with it, gloating to my roommates that I knew how to prepare healthy food. I then ate the entire salad before noticing that I had purchased the wrong thing. I mean, let’s be clear, I knew it didn’t taste right. I’m not a fucking moron. I suspected something was off, but was too embarrassed to say anything. Then my roommate brought it to my attention that I was eating a bowl of fucking cabbage. Let me tell you – it doesn’t matter how much ranch you douse it with… it’s still fucking cabbage.
My salads have come a long way since then. I’ve learned to genuinely love them. While I still have a weakness for ranch dressing, I usually opt for something lighter and homemade. This salad is dressed very simply with a little olive oil, lemon, and salt and pepper. It can be served warm or cold, though I prefer warm. It never occurred to me that a salad could be warm until I started exploring food outside of my comfort zone, which is something I highly recommend. Not sure where to start? Find a recipe that peaks your interest (maybe this one), write out a list of ingredients, and go for it.
And for the love of all that is holy… if you aren’t sure what you’re buying, just ask someone at the store. If they’re a dick about it, tell them to fuck off. We’ve all got to start somewhere.
Farro Arugula Salad (inspired by HelloFresh)
3/4 cup farro
1 yam (or sweet potato), peeled and cubed
1 medium onion, sliced into larger chunks
1/4 cup dried cranberries
3 cups veggie stock
Arugula (as much as you want)
A small handful of sunflower seeds
Salt and pepper (to taste)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Toss the cubed yam and sliced onion with some olive oil and salt and pepper. Spread it out on a baking sheet and bake for about 30-40 minutes, stirring it around halfway through.
While the veggies are roasting, bring the stock to a boil in a medium pot and add the farro. Simmer for about 30 minutes, but keep checking it. You want to make sure it doesn’t overcook, or run out of liquid and burn the shit out of the bottom of the pot (this has definitely happened to me more than once). Once the farro is fully cooked, drain out any excess liquid in a colander and return to pot. Add in the yam and onion mixture, along with a handful of sunflower seeds, the cranberries (this doesn’t really need to be measured), the juice from half of a lemon, a heavy drizzle of olive oil, and a little salt and pepper to taste. Mix everything together and scoop over a large handful of arugula. Sprinkle with some crumbled goat cheese.
Serve this to your friends while pretending to be fancy as fuck, and maybe they’ll forget about the fact that you used to not know the difference between cabbage and lettuce. Or that you still don’t know the different between a yam and a sweet potato.