There has been a quiet revolution going on. For the last ten, if not twenty years, the humble salad has been undergoing an extensive makeover; from leafy afterthought to lunchtime showstopper, the salads of today have come a very long way from the limp offerings of my youth.
Time was that ‘salad’ mean a roughly chopped base of iceberg lettuce, sliced cucumber (skin off if you were feeling fancy) and some quartered, watery tomatoes plonked on top for a ‘bit of colour’. This uninspiring assembly has a lot to answer for - for my generation salad was a thing of dull insipidness and best avoided. In fact, I spent the first 40 years of my life as a salad-swerver or at least it was something I'd only eat if I was ‘trying to be good’.
So, what happened to transform the fortunes of the sad salads of yesteryear? One word – balsamic!! When this dark, mysterious elixir came to our attention sometime in the mid-nineties it was like a collective gastronomic wake-up call – suddenly our leaves were well-dressed and tasted like summer holidays. We went mad for the stuff and with the encouragement of Jamie Oliver we drizzled with abandon. The era of the interesting salad had begun.
Fast forward twenty years and I’d go so far as to say a kick-ass salad is the mainstay of my diet (and when I say diet I mean in the ‘what-I-eat’ sense rather than the ‘weight-watchers’ sense). I now enjoy breakfast salad bowls, lunchtime salad assemblies usually from leftovers and more substantial, Ottolenghi-esque salads for an evening meal. Dressings vary from the classic to the exotic to the experimental. In terms of creativity in the kitchen the salad is where it’s at.
If you are looking for salad inspiration I discovered a brilliant graphic in the book Salt Acid Fat Heat by Samin Nosrat which I am sure many of you will be familiar with (she has also done a series of the same name on Netflix which I highly recommend). This shows why these 4 classic salads have stood the test of time – they have a perfect balance of taste and texture.
When I am putting a salad together I also have a mental checklist – first nutritional balance (complex carbs, good fats, lean protein etc.) and then flavour and texture (salty, sweet, sour, crunch) and then colour (what would make this look nice on the plate?, colourful fruit and veg are key). The dressing is the final flourish, this is what gives your salad its identity – be it spicy, creamy or tangy. The picture accompanying this post is a salad I made recently and it’s a great example of all these things working together:
Healthy carbs in the form of quinoa and lentils as well as leafy greens (spinach)
Good fats from the olive oil in the dressing and the seedy sprinkle
Lean protein from the egg
Plenty of vits and minerals from the colourful veg (tomatoes, peppers, red cabbage)
And crunch from the spicy seed topping
For the dressing I went tropical; half a ripe mango blended with extra virgin olive oil, a finely grated clove of garlic, lemon juice, mild curry powder, salt and pepper and a little water to loosen to the right consistency.
Yes, there’s quite a lot going on but if you have been following me for a while you’ll know that I pretty much always have some pre-cooked grains, roasted veg and hard boiled eggs in the fridge (the basis of my weekend food prep) and so a salad like this is quick to assemble if those things are ready and waiting in the fridge. I’d heartily encourage you to prep a few ingredients if you have half an hour to spare, it really does pay dividends in the salad department!
P.S. Please do tell your friends about my blog if you are enjoying my posts. Thank you. xx