How Terry Hope Romero is Trying to Make Salads Cool

How Terry Hope Romero is Trying to Make Salads Cool
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News flash — not all vegans love salad.

Actually, that's not true. Vegans love salad. What vegans don't love is the sorry excuses for salads we're often served at restaurants, barbecues, family dinners and work potlucks. You know the type — iceberg lettuce with pre-packaged carrot slices, rubbery cherry tomatoes and some bottle from Ralphs claiming to be dressing.

Luckily, there's help in eradicating shitty salad from home and picnic tables everywhere. Terry Hope Romero's new cookbook, Salad Samurai, includes 100 recipes, ranging from tempeh taco salad bowl to Nicoise bento boxes, that prove that salads are a lot more than what you have to eat before the real meal comes.

A few of Romero's recipes will be highlighted during the 41-year-old's appearance Monday, Sept. 15, at Mohawk Bend as part of the Authors Worth Celebrating Series. These include a hearty salad that is "fun to eat with a steak knife," Romero says,  a "very summer-y recipe featuring delicious summer tomatoes" and others that will " feature things like soba noodles, roasted beets, creamy horseradish dressing and seitan made to taste like bacon."

And, sadly, while Romero says that the event might feature "a chocolate torte or a chocolate kind of thing," there will not be a dessert salad. 

Squid Ink: Why are so many restaurant salads so bad?

Terry Hope Romero: At the beginning of my book, I dedicate Salad Samurai to 16-year-old vegans everywhere because I feel like what happens is, when you tell your parents you're going vegan or just vegetarian, they're like, "Oh, that's OK. We'll take you out to eat."  And you go out to a restaurant and they're like, "Look — and there's salad."

I don't know why good restaurants do that. Salads give chefs an opportunity to feature really top-quality produce and to get creative with presentations because salads can look really beautiful. So many places cheapen it or consider it a side thing, a filler you throw at people. The whole point of my book was not like, "We're nibbling some spring mixed greens with balsamic dressing." That's not what I make.

Starting out as teenage vegetarian and turning into a vegan adult, I hated salad.  I never wanted salad. Maybe a lot of omnivores think vegans love salad, but a lot of vegans have been burned by very lazy salads at restaurants and salad bars. I think we've been burned because everyone is eating shitty salad, but I think that's changing. In New York City, there's the whole lunch salad phenomena, where you get a giant bucket and they put 80 things in it. I think that's helped salad cuisine, because people are realizing that salad doesn't mean lettuce and some raw broccoli.

SI: My favorite salad is Caesar. I can take it any way you're giving it to me and your book is giving it to me in numerous ways. What makes Caesar so good and so good with everything?

THR: I sensed that people love Caesar salads. They can't get enough of it. Even people who say they don't like salad will eat a Caesar salad. The obvious thing is you're enrobing those greens that most people are iffy about with a creamy, tangy dressing. Because I was writing a book about salads, I was like, "What the hell — let's make lots of different Caesar salads." I have one that I love that I call the Deviled Kale Caesar Salad.

The dressing has paprika and roasted red peppers, so it definitely has an orange-y spiciness, kind of like a deviled egg. I have Caesar using kale. Kale is the hot new Caesar salad that everyone loves. And bread. Crunchy crouton things. Putting two things people can't get enough of, which is something creamy and a crunchy roasted piece of bread, in a salad is kind of an easy sell. 

SI: If you were making a salad right now, what would you make?

THR: I have one I call the Smokehouse Chickpeas 'n' Greens Salad, where you take cooked chickpeas seared and sauteed in a smoky marinade. It has tomato, liquid smoke and a little bit of sweetness or maple and I toss that so the marinade doubles as a dressing. I top that with avocados and tomatoes and an assortment of greens. I would put the coconut bacon on it too, so there's the contrast of the sizzling hot chickpeas on the cool salad with creamy avocado and onions. Then you put coconut bacon on top and it's really awesome.

SI: What are some things you wouldn't put in a salad?

THR: Anything I say is going to sound like a challenge and I'm going to want to do it. Overly dessert-like things ... putting a cake in a salad. Things like hot pasta. I try to get away from the boring shit, the packaged, flavor-less mixed baby green things. Those have no flavor. I don't know what happened. They look nice and — I feel like that's the new iceberg lettuce. I don't think I have an eggplant salad in the book. Somehow eggplant slipped my mind. 

SI: After you submitted your manuscript, did you take a salad vacation?

THR: I didn't. I felt like it wasn't time yet. I was really getting attached to salads. Today, I'm going to make a soup and that's my first real break. I'm pretty excited to make vegetable soup.

See also: 10 Best Salads in Los Angeles


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