Why I Always Eat My Salad at the End of a Meal

You should really try it.

When I was growing up, we always had a salad as part of dinner. Which, in and of itself may have been a little unusual. What was not unusual was what constituted a salad, and its placement during the meal.

Our salads, like many mid-century American salads, consisted of a head of iceberg lettuce — cored, and cut into wedges. This was then coated liberally with either a bottled dressing, or more commonly in our house, what we called "thousand Island." Our simplified version was simply a mixture of mayo and ketchup… it's not as bad as it sounds, actually. On rare occasions, tomato and cucumber might make a cameo appearance. It was, of course, consumed before the rest of the meal.

But as time moved on, we all began to discover other salad greens as well as the joys of a simple vinaigrette. These changes, along with a realization that other more salad-savvy cultures did things a little differently, caused some rethinking about the placement question.

At first, I, along with many others, thought that eating salad at the end of the meal (as opposed to as an opening act) was an affectation adopted from the French. In other words — just trying to be fancy. And then there were the health food folks who told us that the roughage in salad would work like a broom to clean out our insides at meal's end. Which is not the most appetizing reason to eat something.

But there was something I found appealing about the idea of "salad at the end." So my partner and I decided to try it. And, literally, that first meal was a game-changer. The salad I made was a small pile of mixed, bitter greens with a very simple oil and vinegar dressing. And, after a big meal that included meat, a starch, and some vegetables, this small bright salad was a surprising, tasty palate cleanser. Not in the "so healthy" way… but in a "cut through the richness of the meal" kind of way. We both felt light, not stuffed. And as we continued on with this salad experiment, we found ourselves looking forward to the salad course in a way we never had before. It just felt right. Not fancy, but like the perfect way to end a meal.

I will admit, it took some time for our circle of dinner guests to acclimate. But they came around pretty quickly, and I've had some awfully proud moments when some have reported that they have started serving salad at the end of their meals as well.

Try it. Not with a big bulky salad — but with a mix of beautiful greens. Dress them lightly with good olive oil, good vinegar, and a sprinkling of salt. The end of the meal never tasted so good.

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