Let me be forthright and honest. For the most part I do not like salads. More specifically, I do not like that finely shredded or coarsely ripped vegetable mess dressed with oil and vinegar that lands on your plate at family gatherings, casual dinners with friends, or even in posh eateries and restaurants.
At best, these salads are unimaginative and boring, at worst they are downright repulsive.
Don’t get me wrong. I think a sweet, earthy, good quality tomato is fantastic. There is nothing too offensive about lettuce, onions, beans or cucumber.
But rip them up and drown them in vinegar and oil and things go bad rather quickly.
I my opinion, salads do not get the attention they deserve. They are a mere afterthoughts designed to add something ‘green’ and ‘healthy’ to a starch or protein-heavy meal.
Something that is quick and easy to make, and no one is bothered if it does not add real value to the overall eating experience.
Salads made this way, should be called ‘moer-by’ salads as they involve little more than rummaging through the fridge for ingredients (often) close to or just past their sell-by dates, hacking these to pieces, and tossing it all to a rather kitsch container. If that’s the case, save yourself the little effort and some washing-up later. Do not bother.
Taken at face value, salads are little more than a variety of vegetables coated with a dressing, served either as a meal or course on its own, or as a side dish to another main course. Depending on the purpose, proteins (such as meat or chicken or seafood), starch (such as rice or pasta) or fruit (apples, oranges etc.) may be added.
The English word ‘salad’ is derived from the French ‘salade’ which comes from the Latin ‘salata’ which means salty and refers to the Romans preference for adding salt or brine to their dressings. ‘Salad’ or ‘sallet’ made its way into the English lexicon around the 14th century.
Traditionally, the contents and ingredients of salads vary depending on the general purpose of the salad in the whole meal.
Salads can be served as an appetizer, as a side dish to the main course, as the main course itself, as a palate cleanser after the main meal, or as a dessert with cream, ice cream or with gelatin added.
There are probably as many salads as there are salad makers but here is a useful way of thinking about and possibly classifying salads based on their main ingredients.
Green salad: Also called garden salad, the green salad consists mainly of leafy vegetable varieties such as lettuce, rocket, spinach and a variety of fresh herbs such as basil and mint. These salads are light and should be kept that way. It is typically the fresh herbs that give flavour to these salads, so please look for variety and experiment.
Vegetable salad: These salads consist mainly of vegetables of the non-leafy variety. Commonly these include: cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, spring onions, red onions, carrots, celery, and radishes. Other common ingredients include: avocado, olives, hard boiled egg, artichoke hearts, roasted red bell peppers, green beans, croutons, cheeses and some nuts.
Main course salads: Also known as ‘dinner salads’ or ‘entrée salads’ usually contain some grilled, poached or smoked protein such as chicken, seafood, cheese or red meat.
Fruit salads: plain and simple – made from fresh or canned fruits.
Dessert salads: These are sweet and almost never include leafy vegetables. Nuts, fruit and often gelatin (jelly) and whipped cream are added.
Irrespective of the main ingredients, salads can be ‘tossed’ or ‘bound’.
Tossed salads are salads where the ingredients are mixed with the dressing and tossed together using hands or utensils such as spoons and forks.
Bound salads on the other hand are mixed with a thick dressing such as mayonnaise that causes the ingredients to stick together like in a potato salad. These salads are often composed on a plate, i.e. specifically arranged to allow the salad to hold its shape.
Tuna salad, pasta salad, potato salad and egg salad are all varieties of the bound salad. Some bound salads are often used as sandwich fillings (e.g. tuna salad) and are popular because they could be made ahead of time and refrigerated.
Chances are that there are as many salad dressings as there are salads. But every so often salads made with reasonably good ingredients became dinner calamities because of horrible dressings.
Be inventive, but modest.
Here are a few examples of popular dressings for which there are recipes just about everywhere. Find one or more good dressings and make them yourself. That way you can taste, fix and achieve that all-important balance.
• Blue cheese dressing
• Caesar dressing
• French dressing
• Ginger dressing
• Honey and Dijon mustard dressing
• Italian dressing
• Ranch dressing
The overall quality of your salad will also benefit from the addition of toppings. These add additional flavour and texture. Consider the following:
• Cheese such as blue cheese, parmesan cheese and feta cheese.
• Croutons made from stale white bread fried in olive oil.
• Seeds and nuts such as sunflower seeds, unsalted peanuts, walnuts, cashew nuts.
• Crispy fried bacon or pork rind
• Anchovies are deep fried crispy fish or chicken skin.
• Deep fried, crispy potato skins
• Edible flowers to add colour.
A short while ago I had a nasty fall.
I woke up on the floor with a broken tooth, a cut on the chin and a few seriously compromised ribs. In short, I needed comfort and strong painkillers.
Whereas the medical fraternity could provide the latter, I had to prove the former. I made this salad for its flavour, its nutritional value and because it took me to a far-off continent that I plan to visit again sometime soon.
It contains everything I like in my salad: big flavours, bold textures and yet it is fresh and light. To remind me of my ordeal, and to highlight the techniques for making this salad, I decided to give it an appropriate name. So here it goes: Asian salad – smashed and bruised.
I might not have invented this salad, but hell I like the name.