Have you ever heard anyone reply “salad” when asked about their favorite food? High chances that you haven’t. I think one of the reasons behind this might be the fact that we have been repeatedly told that they are “good” for us and we are built to feel averse towards foods that are “good” for us.
Also, Indians think of salads as “supporting” cast for their mains. I haven’t heard of any regional Indian thaali that casts a salad as a “course” on its own strength.
At a recent birthday party, I included not one but two salads in the menu.
Now, here is a confession. I never thought I would learn to “love” a salad. In fact I avoided them for most of my life. However things changed in my thirties. In random order here are the reasons I started making them:
- They can be made quickly. You can choose to assemble a raw salad in less than 5 minutes with no cooking involved.
- You do not need to follow a specific recipe. Yes, we know what ingredients go into making a Caesar salad. BUT you can say “to hell with it” and still manage to make your own brilliant version.
- You can use your intelligence and put in some “substantial” stuff into it, so it becomes as filling as a main course. Therefore you can opt to save time by not cooking that extra main dish you were planning to.
- It caters to both vegetarians and non vegetarians. Just serve the non vegetarian ingredient separately on the side.
Left: Baby potato and tuna salad with fried cashews and grapes, mustard mayo dressing. Right: Grilled aubergine, bell pepper and zucchini salad with corn, peanut butter dressing.
Even my meat-loving friends love to eat the vegetarian salads I toss up. I don’t know what does it for me, but I can share some basics I have learnt over the years. This is how I usually “build” a salad.
- Something green. Choose anything fresh you can lay your hands on.. regular lettuce, iceberg, lollo rosso, watercress or my all time favorite arugula. Invest in a salad spinner because if you haven’t already, you will never know how simple life can be. Always wash greens in plenty of water. Contamination spreads fast on leaves like they do on any other raw vegetable.
Salad of wine-poached pears and pecans with feta
- Something veggie. This can be raw like a carrot or a cucumber. But that is kind of boring. Isn’t it? Consider using a vegetable that is fully or partially cooked. Pan fry them, boil them, grill them, roast them. Add some flavors. Like roast beets with balsamic vinegar and brown sugar. Never overcook vegetables that go into salads.
- Something “substantial” like flaked fish or grilled chicken or boiled potato or roasted cauliflower florets or pasta.
Smoked salmon salad with penne pasta, olives and arugula.
- Something nutty like almonds, cashews, hazelnuts. Use them raw or toasted. You can even “do” something to them. Like candy your walnuts in caramel.
- Something sweet. Maybe a fruit or a dry fruit. There is no need to buy expensive kiwis and dragon fruits. Use fruits that are in season. Fresh and juicy does it.
Fresh fig salad with pistachios and feta, balsamic dressing
- Consider adding a surprise factor. This comes with practice. I like to pickle sliced onions in salt and apple cider vinegar and use them in the unlikeliest of salads. I use sushi ginger in boiled salads. It works.
- Work on your dressing. If you are a salad novice go by the book initially. Try simple vinaigrettes, but experiment with different kinds of vinegars.. apple cider, balsamic, white wine, red wine, raspberry. If you want to become a salad pro, go wild and experiment. I have used every single possible jam/jelly/marmalade/nut butter in my fridge to make dressings. Also for God’s sake try and avoid dousing your precious salad in mayonnaise, especially the store bought tasteless variety that looks like it belongs to the make up counter of a sci-fi film. If you don’t know how to make your own mayo, consider adding SOMETHING to that tasteless gloopy thingy.
Mixed green salad with black grapes and red radish.
- Keep a balance between strong and weak flavors. Rocket or arugula is a very strong peppery leaf. It would clash with another strong flavor like tuna.
- Never add your dressing early to a raw salad. Raw salad ingredients wilt and release water in contact with salt and vinegar. Cooked salads however will stay fine. Like a grilled vegetable salad or meat salad or even a potato salad.
- Finally a very crucial observation. I suggest you concentrate on each individual ingredient to extract the maximum flavors out of them. For example if your recipe calls for boiled chicken, don’t just boil it in salted water. Instead poach it with something flavorful like celery, bay leaf or worcestershire sauce. Remember, a well thought out and executed salad has “legs”. If you feel that it’s too much work, feel free to prep things the previous night and chill them.
An eternal favorite. Roasted bellpepper salad with pine nuts, olives and feta.
Now for the obvious question my friends ask. Why didn’t I include salads in the Hungry Cat Kitchen regular menu? The answer is simple. Firstly I ask myself if I have EVER had a good salad home delivered to me? No. Salads do not travel well in my personal opinion and I do not want people to eat something messy. Secondly, some salads also need to be kept in a temperature controlled environment, otherwise there would be contamination. Trust me, I have seen numerous instances of people getting stomach infection after consuming takeaway salads that have been kept out for 2 hours. Thirdly, even if your salad were to be delivered to you as separate parts/ingredients and dressings, it would be too much work to explain how to put it all together. While this CAN be done, I am not in favor of doing anything to delivered food except heating it. It defeats the purpose of convenience.
Considering the above reasons that are not in favor of including salads in the main menu, I have kept the doors open for the Catering services. I genuinely love making them and feeding them to people and will continue to do so.
You meanwhile, go ahead and try your hand at it. Enjoy your salad. And do share your feedback, I would love to hear from you.