Raconter des salades


Lies, lies, lies. Half truths, tall tales and outright fibs. Every time you turn around these days it seems a new one is revealed, from Russian hijinks to politicians (not) paying their taxes.

The French language is filled with colourful expressions and ‘raconter des salades’ is a delightful example. Why one would tell salad tales to spin a yarn is not immediately obvious. Yet by gathering different ingredients and marinating them in a sauce, seasoning them with half-truths and jokes and then serving them up as fresh and healthy…it begins to make sense.

When you think about the meaning of the word ‘salade’ it becomes even clearer. Whereas in English a salad is a dish, in French it is also a lettuce or any of the various leaves that compose such dishes. What duplicity!

‘Salade’ the leaves are many indeed. Growing up in Canada in the ice age of the 1960s, iceberg was the only lettuce we knew. Along came the 70s and we discovered romaine (Hail, Caesar!) and in the 80s the advent of the spinach salad. (Raw spinach? In a salad!?!)

Arriving in France I was amazed by the number and varieties of lettuce and other leaves that people ate raw or dressed with different types of vinaigrette. From mesclun to watercress, frisée to lola rossa…the sheer variety was extraordinary. This image gives you an idea. (How did I never realize that dandelions are literally dents-de-lion, lion’s teeth?)raconter-une-salade

Perhaps most amazingly, there were salads served in restaurants that contained few or no leaves at all: salade de crudités with a variety of raw veg; salade Niçoise, with green beans, potatoes and tuna; salade Grecque with its chunks of feta, tomato and olives. When we moved to Lyon I discovered the salade Lyonnaise with its lovely runny egg and smoky lardons. The frisée lettuce served with this one can make it challenging to consume politely, without splattering vinaigrette or wending one’s knife.

I love salads, and not just because they are good for you. There are lemony carottes rapées (that’s grated, not raped because, let’s face it, if anyone is going to do the raping it is the carrot) and betterave (Better ‘ave ‘em? Beets me!) with lovely mâche and walnuts. As I shared in a previous post, the secret is in la sauce vinaigrette.

Pardon my use of so many silly puns, but is that not in keeping with the telling of salads?

What’s your favourite kind of salad?

La Vinaigrette: All dressed up

Sauce vinaigretteLa sauce vinaigrette or salad dressing is such a basic thing I hardly dare dedicate a post to it. And yet, it adds so much flavor and zing to my daily consumption of salad leaves, root veggies and crudités that it seems worthy of mention.

‘Poireaux vinaigrette’ was probably my first encounter with the humble sauce. So simple, yet so delicious: the leeks cooked to a fondant perfection, served at room temperature under several spoons of vinaigrette that puddled in the dish to be ‘sauced’ with crusty bread.

My beau-père would always make his own vinaigrette for the salad traditionally served in France after the main dish and before the cheese: usually with shallots and red-wine vinegar. It tended to be fairly strong stuff – beware the roof of your mouth – but that was needed to dress the stiff, crisp leaves of batavia and escarole that my belle-mère preferred. It also had a cleansing effect that prepared the palate and aided the digestive system in making room for the cheese – the stinky star of the meal for my husband’s family who hailed from Normandy, home of the camembert.

Other than special occasions like the year-end holidays, we rarely sit down to a full meal in the French tradition these days – appetizer, main dish, salad, cheese and dessert.  I, along with my waistline, am grateful for this, as it was always hard going. You roll away from the table ready for nothing more than a nap.

Now, without further ado, my easy-peasy recipe for making even a dull salad sing.

My house vinaigrette is made of walnut oil and cider vinegar. I love the subtle flavor that it brings to just about every kind of salad, although originally I made it to accompany my favorite combination of endives, walnuts and roquefort cheese. It also works extremely well with cubes of apple and a harder cheese like Conté or Beaufort.


  • Walnut oil – l’huile de noix
  • Dijon mustard – Make sure you get plain Dijon and not the kind with the added mayonnaise
  • Cider vinegar – ‘Maille’ really is the best
  • Salt & pepper


I haven’t listed quantities as it really depends on how much you’re making and how ‘edgy’ you like your dressing. Personally, I tend to go for a 3-1 oil-to-vinegar ratio, but I cheat by adding a bit of warm water to top up the oil – it lightens both the calories and the cost. Walnut oil is rather expensive, so if you’re on a budget, you may wish to substitute canola  although I recommend you keep at least half walnut for the flavor. It can also be hard to find in North America (or it was the last time I looked — 20 years ago!)

Shake it upPour a little vinegar into a bowl and mix with a heaping spoonful of mustard. Add the oil gradually, stirring constantly to create an emulsion. Season. Top up with 1-2 tablespoons of hot water. Stir or shake (if using a salad shaker – these babies are great for measuring and for storage).


The wonderful thing about vinaigrette is that you can do so many different things to it according to your whim. Whether you use red-wine vinegar, white or red balsamic or sherry vinegar; olive, walnut or a neutral oil like canola.

  • Add a bruised clove of garlic and let it slowly release its power over several hours or days
  • Finely chop some shallots or red onions
  • Add a handful of coarsely chopped herbs – parsley, tarragon, basil, mint
  • A few tablespoons of yoghurt turns the vinaigrette into a creamier salad dressing
  • A spoonful of honey will soften the vinegar if too vinegary

I never buy bottled salad dressing anymore – who needs the additives? If I haven’t got the few minutes it takes to make a dressing, I’d rather just toss in a little balsamic and oil.

Salade du jourAs for the salad, this one was a kitchen sink version based on what I had on hand: lucky for me it was Parma ham, conté, walnuts, mushrooms and avocado. Oh, and a bit of lettuce, or ‘salade’ as it’s called here.

La vie est belle, non?