|Dive into a bowl of salad today!|
The word "salad" used to conjure for me images of cold, raw and insipid leaves complete with boring dressings. I have since recognised the follies of my thoughts and now understand that those images, and all real life manifestations of such images, are completely defamatory of salads.
I follow a Canadian food programme called Chef At Home. The titular chef, Michael Smith, has this pearl of wisdom for home cooks: "There are no rules when it comes to salads." Such an assertion may not sound like much (and is even self-defeating from a philosophical angle) but I find it most enlightening and liberating. No celery or celeriac on hand? Nothing to stop you from putting together a Waldorf-ish salad with some leaves. No mayonnaise for a potato salad? Use vegetable oil. No leaves? Try some cooked grains. It's time to get accustomed to custom-made salads because salads are all about what your tastebuds prefer, not what somebody else's recipe dictates. It's creative cooking at its most forgiving.
Whilst I am happy to discard fixed rules, I do believe that guidelines on assembling a salad can be good reference points. The following are guidelines derived from my personal experience in making salads in the past two years and I hope that they will prove helpful to you:
1. Greens - Tender baby leaves are excellent options. Go organic if the prices for organic produce are not prohibitive where you live. I personally like a mix of baby spinach and arugula leaves. Cooked grains (such as brown rice) and pastas are excellent substitutes when you want a more substantial salad.
2. Fruits - Toss in some fresh apple slices or your favourite fruits for some sweetness, crispness and added freshness. Segments of grapefruits or oranges (without the membrane), slices of peaches or nectarines, they all work. If you prefer dried fruits, no issue. Dried cranberries, raisins, dried apricots, dried figs, whatever you fancy. Ripe tomatoes are fantastic additions too. Oh yes, botanically-speaking, tomatoes are actually fruits.
3. Nuts/Seeds - Lightly toasted nuts or seeds are aromatic, lend great flavours and provide some textural contrast to a bed of salad greens. Walnuts, pine nuts, almonds, pecan nuts, sun flower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, etc. Go with your favourite.
4. Dressing - If you like your dressing out of a bottle, that's not a problem. Want to make your own vinaigrette? Please do! Homemade vinaigrettes are really easy to make and they taste fantastic. Read somewhere before that you need 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar? Well, that's just a guideline. Remember, there are no rules when it comes to salads. It really depends on your personal preference. I find that a ratio of 2 parts oil to 1 part vinegar works well for my family and guests. Try different mustards. Substitute honey for maple syrup. Heck, put a few drops of molasses. Keep experimenting. That's part of the fun.
I'll leave you with a tip for emulsifying oil and vinegar that I learnt from watching Chef At Home. Instead of whisking the ingredients in a bowl at a constant furious speed, just pour all the ingredients for the vinaigrette into a small jar. Screw the lid on and shake the jar somewhat vigorously. There, that's your emulsified vinaigrette. Enjoy!
|A salad from Ubuntu, a 1-Michelin-star restaurant in Napa, California, that celebrates vegetables. That visit was a real eye-opener and was instrumental in instilling in me new-found respect for vegetables.|