First off, Happy New Year to you wonderful readers out there in newspaper land. I do hope that 2019 brings you success, prosperity and all good things. I appreciate you all.
Now that I have covered the pleasantries let’s get into a topic I’m really excited about; salad! Not excited yet, are you? Well, you will be.
Most persons’ first thoughts when they hear the word salad, is usually along the lines of, “It’s just going to be a plate of bush but it’s good for me so I guess I’ll eat it.” Salad usually gets a bad rep and is often thought of as boring, lacking flavour or just plain old better suited to feeding rabbits. This is entirely the fault of the person who made the salad and not that of the poor vegetables sitting on the plate in front of you, looking forlorn.
During my first year of culinary school, my classmates often bickered over who would get to prepare the various courses for the restaurant production class. Needless to say, no one wanted to do the salad course and I was often the one stuck doing it because I’ve never been a pushy person. I didn’t let it get me down though, rather, I took it as a challenge to create salads that were more memorable and interesting to restaurant guests than every other course they would be served. I often succeeded at that goal, the proof being that guests would almost always ask to see the ‘chef’ who prepared the salad course, after which they would shower me with compliments. Side note: I was shy back then and often stood there, blushing and feeling very awkward.
I became very skilled at making salads as a result of that experience but what is most important to note is the approach I took toward creating interesting salads and that’s what I’m excited to share with you today.
Oftentimes people approach salad making in the simplest way, which is to cut a bunch of green, leafy vegetables and throw them in a bowl. If they feel like getting a little fancy, they may throw in some ingredients with colour such as tomatoes or any combination of bell peppers. That’s all fine and dandy but there is a world of ingredients out there that one can use in a salad including, meat, seafood, fruits (fresh or dried), grains, starches, nuts, seeds and the list can go on almost indefinitely. This is why I will share the principles I use when making salads, rather than specific ingredients.
As with preparing any dish, variation is key as pertains to making it interesting and ‘crave-able’. It is important to break the monotony by using various textures, flavour profiles, mouthfeel and even temperatures. We first need to break the salad down into its parts. A salad is comprised of a:
That being said, one can manipulate any or all parts of the salad to produce a final product with variation of all these attributes.
This is the primary ingredient for the composition of the salad and is usually the most abundant ingredient e.g. potatoes in a potato salad or lettuce in a typical green salad. We are not limited to green, leafy vegetables as our base and can literally use anything that is edible. There are salads that use grains such as rice, quinoa or farro as the base ingredient, pasta based salads, local ingredients such as green figs and even proteins such as salmon, lobster or even chicken. Fruits are also used as salad bases and pairs nicely with other ingredients as they often add an element of sweetness to otherwise savoury, nutty or vegetal flavour profiles.
The body is comprised of the main ingredients in the salad. There is again, no limit to what one can use in the body of a salad. The ingredients used may be fresh, cooked, vegetable,
meat, protein, seafood, fruit, grain, etc. It is important to use ingredients that differ in texture and flavour from the base as well as from the other ingredients used in the body of the salad. This is to ensure that your salad is not one dimensional. One can experiment with exotic fruit such as persimmon, seafood such as cooked mussels, raw oyster or salmon sashimi, slices of creamy avocado and even chunks of feta cheese. The possibilities are infinite.
Garnish enhances the appearance of the salad while also complementing the overall taste of the salad. There are lots of interesting ingredients one can use to garnish a salad. Seeds such as sesame, pumpkin and chia are common garnishes used but fresh herbs like basil, parsley and cilantro can also be used in addition to toasted or candied nuts like pecans or almonds. Fried garnishes can also be used to add texture to your salad as
well as to add a temperature variation. In the past I made plantain and green fig chips, candied pecans and even deep fried onion slivers or pickled radish as salad toppers. My principle is pretty much, “If you can eat it, it can go in a salad”.
Finally is the dressing. These are liquids or semi-liquids that are used to flavour a salad. They can be separated into a few types which include vinaigrettes, mayonnaise-based and other specialty dressings. Some like to keep it simple and drizzle citrus juice or flavoured vinegars such as balsamic or red wine, followed by extra virgin olive oil. No matter which direction you decided to go, it is of integral importance that your dressing is balanced and complements the flavours of your salad while not overpowering the other ingredients.
So the next time you think of making a salad, you can skip past the romaine
lettuce at the grocery store for a different reason and explore the endless possibilities available through countless other ingredients that you can use to beat the boring out of salad. Hope this helps. Happy eating!