Salads

Salads

By
Justin North
Contains
7 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781740665377
Photographer
Steve Brown

Over the years the ‘salade’ has come to mean different things to different people, and no more so than in the French kitchen. Traditionally, and most usually in a French meal, salad pretty much just meant green lettuce leaves tossed in a vinaigrette dressing and it was served after the main course as a sort of digestif before cheese and dessert.

With the advent of the nouvelle cuisine movement in the 1970s, a new type of salad emerged. Served more as a starter to stimulate the mind and the palate, these various salades – folle, gourmande, nouvelle and so on – were all about visual impact and letting the imagination run wild.

While this all seems a bit passé these days, I still really love the idea of a composée salad, or salade composée. To me salads are worthy of far more than being simply relegated to ‘side’ status. With all the endless options available in respect of colour, texture and flavour, salads make wonderful dishes in their own right, either as a light starter or as a light main meal. And remember, whatever part they play in a meal they are always intended to be refreshing and light, rather than filling.

Given that salad ingredients are usually (but not always) eaten raw, it is imperative that you choose absolutely top-notch produce. And really, there’s no excuse not to do this. We are spoilt for choice these days when it comes to the vast array of baby vegetables, salad leaves, miniature herbs, cresses and even edible flowers that are readily available.

In my view, local market gardens and growers’ markets are likely to be your best bet for finding an interesting array of salad ingredients. And don’t just assume that all green leaves taste the same! It’s very important not to be shy, but always to ask if you can have a little taste of what’s on offer. That way you’ll start to learn about the different textures and flavours that are available, from the pepperiness of wild rocket and watercress, or the sharp bite of sorrel, to bitter radicchio and endive or sweet butter lettuce. As with herbs, every salad leaf has its own unique flavour and texture, and it’s the way you put the various components together that creates a great salad. Even the simplest salad should focus on colour, texture and flavour – in ways that complement and contrast each other, and the dishes that are to follow.

When choosing ingredients for your salads, look for crisp, fresh leaves and bright vivid colours. It’s a good idea to buy cresses and baby leaves in punnets (small plastic containers), wherever possible – and always buy in smallish quantities for maximum freshness.

Store salad leaves in their original packaging, or wrapped in a damp (not wet) tea towel. Keep them in the fridge but make sure there is plenty of air circulating around them – you don’t want to crush and bruise delicate leaves.

With a few exceptions, all salad leaves, herbs and cresses should be prepared in the same way: trim off the stems, discard any wilted leaves and separate the inner leaves ready for washing. Most herbs should be picked into little sprigs – or pluches, if you want to be fancy.

All salad ingredients must be well washed to remove sand or grit. The best way of washing is to place the leaves in a sink or large bowl filled with cool water. Move them around gently to loosen any dirt, then leave them to sit for a few moments to allow sand or grit to fall to the bottom of your bowl. Lift the leaves out gently and shake lightly before drying in a salad spinner or on absorbent paper towels. Don’t miss this step – if your leaves are not well dried the dressing will not cling and the salad will be limp and will taste watery.

There are all sorts of dressings you can use for your salads, and you should think about them in the same way you think about a sauce: a good dressing is one that brings out the flavour of the ingredients it is paired with, rather than overwhelming them. A good dressing will also be well balanced and well seasoned – but this is very much dependent on the palate of the dressing maker! In the end, you want to achieve a happy harmony of sweetness, acidity and oil. One final tip: I often rub the inside of my salad bowl with a cut clove of garlic just before I add the salad and its dressing. This adds a fresh hint of garlic, without being overpowering.

Recipes in this Chapter

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