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Big, robust salads are a thing of beauty. Today when eating out, many salads on offer are designed as a main course option rather than just an accompaniment. I love making salads at home just because of this, they give the creative an exciting palette to work with.
Here are a few ideas and concepts that may assist in helping you to make salads like a Champ!
Mix up textures. These can be found in vegetable, fruit and protein or carbohydrate components. Include soft for example buttercrunch or similar style lettuce, tomatoes, roasted vegetables, herbs, avocado, goats cheese. Crunchy can be added in the form of croutons, toasted nuts, sprouted legumes, cucumber, roasted potatoes or raw thinly sliced or coarsely grated raw root vegetables. The options are literally limitless.
Combine flavours that complement each other.
If adding a sweet ingredient like a fruit, include something salty that goes well e.g. watermelon and goats cheese. Other salty components include olives, crisp bacon or pancetta. Keep the flavours balanced so any single one doesn’t overpower the whole dish.
Sourness adds an interest and balances up the salty and sweet flavours. This could be as simple as the vinegar or lemon juice in a dressing or perhaps fermented or pickled vegetables.
Think of flavour combinations you enjoy in other dishes – breakfast eggs and bacon combo can be turned into a salad of crisp bacon, leaves dressed with a simple vinaigrette, roasted tomatoes and a warm poached egg on top.
Add a warm component like sliced rested chicken, just toasted nuts or just roasted vegetables. Add when cooled slightly, not steaming directly from the oven as the heat will wilt delicate greens.
Don’t complicate things by adding too many ingredients. Choose as little as 3 good quality, seasonally fresh components. Think of warm toasted walnuts, green leaves and creamy blue cheese for perfectly balanced salad in texture, flavour and nutrition.
If pre-preparing salads, keep each component side-by-side, in separate piles in a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate for several hours. If pre-mixed it may result in a soggy mass. Mix together on serving for a fresh-as-a-daisy result.
A salad needs to be ‘well dressed’. Make dressings in your own kitchen. A simple combination literally takes a couple of minutes to whip up. You’ll save a fortune and know exactly what is in your food. Commercially made dressings often contain thickeners and preservatives that our bodies don’t benefit from.
Soft textured leaves don’t bear well under the weight of a heavy emulsion style mayonnaise dressing (although if mayo is whisked with hot water it can form a lighter version of itself that can be drizzled rather than dolloped). Mayonnaise dressings can be joojed with spice mixes such as Cajun, chilli heat such as sriracha sauce or citrus with a good squeeze of lime.
Do remember the dressing may not have enough grunt to ‘season’ the salad. Add salt and pepper when salad is tossed. Be prudent to start with, more can always be added but an over seasoned salad is hard to rectify.
Don’t drown the salad in dressing. It should delicately cling to leaves and not leave a pool in the base of the salad bowl. It is designed to complement the components not totally suffocate them.
On serving, toss salad using clean hands. Be gentle if components are fragile. Using hands means you can feel when the salad is mixed and coated with your chosen dressing. Less bruising of leaves and herbs occurs too.
Some items may need layering when serving salads. Nuts tend to fall to the bottom of the bowl and if soft cheese is included, the well sought after pieces that give that gorgeous creamy flavour bursts will disappear into indistinct smears. The advantage with layering is, you as the host will serve yourself last, therefore if you place a few choice ingredients on the base and build the salad on top of this you are guaranteed a yummy portion too!
Practice these guidelines and riff with your favoured interpretation. Your salad will be amazing and it will reach the table in perfectly perky condition.
Finally here is our recipe we use in class when serving simply dressed salad greens. Enjoy.
1½Tbsp De Soto sherry vinegar (good food stores)
1tsp Maille Dijon mustard (supermarket)
4Tbsp Jingilli extra virgin olive oil (supermarket)
½tsp Murray River Salt Flakes (good food stores)
pinch cracked black pepper (supermarket)
Place all ingredients in twist top jar. Seal with lid.
Shake for 30 seconds or so, until emulsified.
Store in jar in pantry (cool dark place) for up to 3 weeks.
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