Salad often is ignored at Christmas dinner except for these three favorites.

Don’t we all know it. The Christmas meal is as sacred as Santa’s beard. Mess with the menu and brace for a hard landing. Our diners don’t realize it, but the cooks get weary of same old same old. How b-o-r-i-n-g. Especially when the menu is identical to Thanksgiving’s. We learn, the hard way, that if indeed the meal is to change, it better be slowly. A glacial year timeframe might be safe, then again...

One area that seems not etched in Moses’ stone tablets is the salad. Many of you don’t even bother with it. You’re missing something. A memorable salad can be the starter of the meal, a chance to relax before the heavy lifting of the main course. The salad need not be without holiday significance. Seafood offers Biblical symbols. Lentils in many lands are a good-luck, happy-family charm. The green, red and white colors of your salad are the colors of the season.

A few suggestions: 

Keep it light. Forget potato and macaroni salad. Successful green salads are punctuated by spare use of piquant additions such as sweet pickle or a selection of marinated Greek olives. Keep the plates small and save the filling rolls for the rest of the meal. And don’t skimp on the lettuce. Chose a buttery bibb or buttercrunch instead of the mundane romaine or iceberg.

Our Newport Beach lentil salad is from the Last Mango restaurant. The composed mushroom salad is my invention for best friends. Or try a curried shrimp mix. Salads are best built in the kitchen and served individually instead of simply passing around a family-style bowel. This offers a chance to express the artistic you.

Above all, have fun with it. You’ll be fine if you serve all your family’s traditions.

Newport Beach Lentil Salad

1 1/2  cups dried lentils
1  medium carrot, diced
1 small onion, diced
1 bay leaf
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 roasted red pepper, from jar, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 teaspoon mint
3 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced
1 tablespoon thyme
Pepper to taste


Juice of 1 lemon
Grated peel of 1 small lime
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 pinch cayenne pepper
1 pinch paprika
7 ounces extra-virgin olive oil
6 ounces crumbled feta cheese

Mix vinaigrette in a separate bowl. Rinse lentils and cover with water. Bring to a boil and add carrot, onion, bay leaf, garlic and salt. Lower heat and simmer until lentils are tender, about 20 to 25 minutes. Drain and chill one hour.

Combine peppers with lentils in a large bowl. Pour on vinaigrette and toss. Add herbs and toss. Important: Refrigerate for three hours to meld flavors. Crumble the cheese on top and serve on bibb lettuce leaves.

Serves 6 to 8

Composed Mushroom Salad

6 thin slices brown bread, crust removed
1 cup fresh mushrooms, thinly sliced
4 green onions with tops, sliced
2 apples, peeled and cored, sliced
6 sweet pickle spears
Fresh parsley for garnish


2 tablespoons lemon juice, fresh
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon tarragon, dried
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt, pepper to taste

Whisk marinade ingredients thoroughly. Pour over mushrooms, cover and chill at least three hours. Place brown bread slices on salad plates. Arrange vegetables and apple slices on top. Spoon on mushrooms and vinaigrette.

Note: Pickled herring fillets are optional for those who like them.

Serves 6

Curried Shrimp Salad

12 medium shrimp, cooked and chilled
Mild curry powder
3-4 slices bacon, fried and drained
1/2 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
Fresh dill, cut
4 cups young spinach leaves
6 marinated kalamata olives for garnish


1 teaspoon cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon bacon drippings

Lightly dust shrimp with curry powder and chill for 1 hour. Fry bacon until crisp, remove and drain on paper towel. Add dressing ingredients to warm bacon oil and mix thoroughly. Combine remaining ingredients, add curried shrimp and crumbled bacon. Toss with dressing and serve on spinach leaves.

 Serves 4

 Note: Curried hard-boiled egg slices may be substituted for shrimp.