If i think of my childhood, we were never into salads, well the only salad we knew of was a kachumber salad, one with finely chopped cucumber, tomatoes and onions, with lemon, green chillies and salt, when left for a while, the veggies would sweat in the lemon and form a delicious puddle at the bottom of the salad. Me and my brother would fight for that liquid which was the essence of the salad. Thats about it, the term ‘salad basics’, ‘salad dressings’, ‘salad leaves’ still doesn’t click much with us. So even though we think Salads are not too native to us, but come to think of it, that liquid we fought for was nothing but a salad dressing.
I agree that the concepts of salads are not very native to us but a little understanding and hand holding can help us explore the beautiful world of salads, which are light and hearty and easy on our stomuch, and we cannot deny, the lesser we process our food, the purer they remain, and hence salads are one of the healthiest food options to back to these days.
Even though most of the restaurants and cafes serve salads these days, some are doing a fabulous job, at least they are introducing us to the vast possibilities, but lets agree, if we want to introduce salads to our daily food habits, we have to learn making them ourselves. So heres a humble attempt to decode the salad saga, and develop our own salad recipes.
There are chances you have still not developed a taste for salads, you think its a leafy thingy which is either too salty, or too blande or creamy, and maybe the same old stuff everywhere, that means you have not yet discovered the right kind of salads yet, I request you to read on with a clean slate of mind, and discover the beauty of salads.
I was first attracted towards salads when i had started watching masterchef australia, that was the first time salads looked and sounded so so appetising to me that i wanted to churn one up for myself. Hence, any food, until it connects to your heart, and gets you down on your knees and makes you go umm, whats that last thing i tasted in there, so whatever be the name of the salad, and even if its the bestseller somewhere, if it doesn’t connect to you, ignore, here are the basics of salads, take it as a guideline and fit your favorites in there to create a salad that connects with you. We will keep giving salad ideas to get your salad grey matter working. I got my basics right after reading some Jamie oliver books / articles and i swear by it.
5 basic components of salads
Greens , or the salad leaves, there was a time when we used to have only the iceberg lettuce(cabbage like but thinner leaves on a head) on the shelves, but now theres no limits to the possibilities, romaine (the thicker green leaf lettuce), radicchios (the thick red head like an iceberg), and a lot more. This fabulous chart from the rebel dietician is the best guide for a layman to understand the greens. Keep experimenting till you understand what taste clicks with you and what doesn’t.
Buy salad leaf heads, lose packs will mostly be wilted and old.
Wash them in several batches of clean water, until theres no mud left.
Strain the leaves in a colander, use a salad spinner to strain the excess water, it leaves your greens crunchy, and the water also makes the dressing blande.
Use a combination of leaves to get a contrast of colors.
You can also use herbs like basil, arugula, parsley, etc for an extra flavor and fragrance. Some are mustardy and bitter, and add a nice dimension to the salad.
2. Veggies and Fruits for body
Vegetables, raw or semi cooked or grilled or roasted form a integral part of the salad to add some body to it.
- Cucumber is the most common salad vegetable.
- Root veggies like beet, carrot, can be added raw.
- Also veggies like radishes.
- veggies like broccoli, bell peppers, zucchini, raw or sautéed or grilled.
- Fruits like apple, pineapple, kiwi and more can be a part of a fruity salad as per your liking.
- Use your regular peeler to for ribbons, or a spiralizer to form spirals to get a change.
- Pantry staple veggie like onions, tomatoes also add good body and flavors.
3. Proteins & Carbs
If just greens and veggies are not your thing, add proteins like boiled eggs, beans, boiled lentils, or meats like chicken, boiled or grilled, tuna, salmon, ham, or grains like quinoa or couscous to add that mealish bulk to your salad.
Chicken if just boiled and shredded or cut and taste a little blande to some people, just drop in a sprig of herb and salt into the boiling water and it adds depth to the otherwise flat chicken.
You can also marinade the chicken in your dressing for 15-30 mins and pan grill it 4 mins on each side to get the best and quickest grilled chicken for your salad. It will set your salad rock n rolling and will no longer be the dull and boring salad.
4. Salad dressing
The most important of all elements in a salad is a salad dressing which forms the binding and flavourings agent in a salad. A dressing can be oil based or a creamy one based on your liking, but as long as you understand the key rule, that a salad dressing is basically composed of an oil and an acidic agent, in the ratio of 3:1, play around with the oil, and the acidic agent like lime, vinegar, and you have a whole mine of salad dressings at your disposal. We talk in depth about Salad dressings, hope it helps you.
5. Texture / Crunch
Any food should have a few dimensions to it for it be appealing, and texture / crunch plays a very important role here.
Nuts like pinenuts and roasted almonds
or seeds like sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds.
or stale bread croutons or plain papads crunched into the salad.
Dairy in the form of cheese, crumbled, sliced, or grated as a topping or yogurt as a part of dressing adds a good dimension.
Canned or pickled add ons like gherkins, sundried tomatoes, capers, olives, jalepenos, garlic, form interesting add ons to your salad, and give it a brand new twist.
Tricks of the trade
The ground rule is salads cannot not be boring, use all or omit a few elements here and there and set your salad rolling.
If your dressing is slightly too acidic or slightly too salty,its alright, most other elements in the salad dont have any salt in it and have a tendency to leave water, and less soaking capabilities, so a little more helps here.
Dont overdress a salad, serve the dressing seperately, and let the consumer decide how much is required as per their taste.
If surroundings permit, use your fingers to beautifully coat each piece of the salad with the dressing, else shake it to get it going.