So What Exactly is Salad?

Gilly's post last week reminded me I've been pondering the question so what exactly is salad? since the start of this Challenge. Carl asked a similar question at the beginning of the year, so the definition I came up with in reply and for our purposes is...'s salad leaves, sprouted seeds, edible flowers and anything you can forage to add to the bowl. There are also other seasonal 'supplements' you may have available to add: e.g. beetroot and other root vegetables during the winter; or cucumber, peppers and tomatoes in the summer for instance.

So far that definition has served us well. However, Gilly's got me thinking about it again. In her post she said:

I don’t want to eat a lot of salad over winter, I prefer warm vegetables and veggie-packed soups.

There's nothing wrong with that of course, and it got me musing about warm salads in her Comments:

...I’ve been pondering salads vs. winter – we need some recipes for warm salads methinks (when I’ve got my head round what warm and salad actually means!). Plus a lot of the salad ingredients can be used for warming soups too, so it’s win-win.

Gilly replied:

Yes, when is a salad not a salad? With so many ‘non-salad’ items now entering the salad repertoire plus hot lettuce recipes I would pose the question “is it a useful way of looking at it?” but then where would that leave the Challenge!

It seems I'm not the only one confused by the term 'salad' these days, so I turned to The Free Dictionary for guidance where it's defined as:

sal·ad (sld) NB do click on the little icon to hear the spoken salad!

a. A dish of raw leafy green vegetables, often tossed with pieces of other raw or cooked vegetables, fruit, cheese, or other ingredients and served with a dressing.
b. The course of a meal consisting of this dish.
2. A cold dish of chopped vegetables, fruit, meat, fish, eggs, or other food, usually prepared with a dressing, such as mayonnaise.
3. A green vegetable or herb used in salad, especially lettuce.
4. A varied mixture: "The Declaration of Independence was . . . a salad of illusions" (George Santayana).

Concentrating on items 1a and 2, let's see...
  • Raw leafy green vegetables... so where does potato salad fit in?
  • Served with a dressing... though my leaves like those pictured at the top of this post often aren't
  • Often tossed... that suggests a number of ingredients jumbled together - simple tomato & basil salad anyone? And where does that leave composed salads, where the ingredients are often tastefully arranged, just so?
  • A cold dish... but there's also warm e.g. Carl's recent Warm Chickweed Salad and a whole lot more once you start looking on the interweb
It seems there are plenty of exceptions to these 'rules' as far as salad is concerned!

For NAH, a salad means various green leaves combined with tomatoes, cucumber, red pepper, raisins and a low fat dressing so that it's less boring. It's served alongside grilled fish, meat or an omelette. It means he eats something in the evening which agrees with his constitution and doesn't interfere with swimming training later on or early the next morning. I get rather bored with that - hence my need for this Challenge!

What does the term salad mean to you?

Update: I've now come up with a simple 4-step guide which ensures we get a great tasting salad every time, no matter where we are in the year.


  1. I think NAH has the clue to this. The word salad comes from the Latin word saltare, meaning to salt (the word salsa has the same root). The Romans used to eat salad leaves dressed with oil and vinegar - to make it less boring! - so in a way, the word salad really refers to the way the vegetables are served rather than the vegetables themselves.
    The Romans got the idea of salad from the Egyptians, who grew a type of upright lettuce, named after Cos, the Greek island where it originated. As the Romans spread their culinary habits throughout their empire, the Cos type lettuce became known as Romaine, because it was seen as a Roman vegetable.

  2. Anything cold and tossed together to eat! LOL!

  3. For me, a salad is anything involving edible leaves in some fashion. This allows me to accommodate tuna, pasta,jello by plunking it on a raw lettuce leaf. I'm afraid that the only type of warm salad I think of is lettuces dressed with warm bacon dressing.

  4. Thanks to Victoria that lettuce is my fridge has suddenly gone all Greek-Egyptian on me. There's the French salade tiede (sorry fractured franglais). Fried mushrooms scattered over leafy greens. Potato salad served while still warm.

  5. @elephant's eye: Keep an eye on it, Diana - it might start doing the sand dance !

  6. I think the term salad is used too loosely...and probably when a cook wants a dish to sound healthier than it actually is ;)

  7. Wonderful blog! ~ I'm now following ~ Best, Anne

  8. hmmm salad conjures cold in my mind although warm or hot additions like still warm and slightly runny eggs in a Salad Nicoise, or hot croutons or bits of pancetta or bacon.

    There have to be some uncooked fresh components though, thus potato salad qualifies on the basis its cold, and includes chopped raw spring onions/chives/various herbs.

    I love salad - and find salad leaves one of the sweetest tasting things I have in my diet. Whilst some might scoff a bar of chocolate, I have been known to sit and munch my way through an iceberg lettuce instead!

    PS its great to be able to comment again xx

  9. Much to think about here VP. To me salad ingredients vary considerably with the seasons. There may be cooked ingredients on the plate but they are usually served cold. My mum comes from Rome and for her salads are green only apart from tomatoes. She eats her salad after meat or fish etc courses and not with them.

  10. I also think the clue is in the tossing and the dressing. We eat a fabulous warm pasta salad with broccolli (warm), anchovy (cold) and tomatoes (cold) lots of lemon and olive oil. Full of umami!

    BTW This is quite a European take on salads. How about the East?

  11. Victoria - you're a mine of information - thanks for adding so much to this post :)

    Clint - you and NAH are of like minds

    Petoskystone - my salad challenge is mainly edible leaves too

    EE - I see your salads have quite a variety!

    Tanya - welcome! You have a good point there

    Anna - thank you and welcome :)

    Zoe - warm bacon seems to be pretty popular judging by these comments. Lovely to see you again :)

    Anna - when I went to Paris on a school trip, we were served salad greens separately to the (very rare) steak. Looks like it's a continental thing

    Colleen - good point. I wonder if the East has salads and if they do, perhaps they call it something else?

  12. Forgive me being a bit late commenting. It's clear a salad has moved on since Greek and Roman times, as have the foods available to us. The common thread seems to be a combination of vegetables with the addition of a dressing - or, at least, that normally the dish would include a dressing. One dictionary I consulted also included meat and fish prepared with a dressing à la mode of a salad, e.g. mackerel salad, but this seems to me a step too far.

    As for hot salads, mostly they tend to be more often warm than hot or a mix of warm and cold ingredients and it hardly seems logical to exclude them. I agree with Tanya that the word salad has a healthy connotation that at times it barely deserves.

    In conclusion I would say that salad is a word hard to define but most of the time we all know what we mean!

  13. Hi Gilly - good to have you here :)

    I think you're right - salad is very hard to define, but we know one when we see one!

    We've just eaten ours - in the usual NAH style of course ;)


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