Monday, December 10, 2007

Tis the Season to eat Salad

Every time I go somewhere I take salad. Well not every time.

Places I don't take salad include: the movies, celebrity funerals, first dates, last dates, weddings, the pub, and secret rendezvous with Orlando Bloom.

But since I never go to any of those places anymore, I often make salads and take them with me to parties and dinners out and Christmas and so forth. People say 'You bring the salad cause you do good salads.' So here is the secret to doing good salad.

For a salad to be a meal (with bread and maybe wine) you need to represent a few food groups:
1. Starch. Starchy foods fill you up. The best sources of starch in a salad are potatoes and bread. Pasta and rice are also acceptable but are often dry, or as we salad makers like to say, a bit nyung nyung nyung. Cracked wheat (like in tabouleh) is great, but needs to be well soaked and doused in olive oil and pomegranate molasses. Noodles are good, I love thai salads. Crispy noodles make me happy.
2. Protein. Meat, eggs, fish, lentils, cheese, avocado or nuts. Nuts are great in salad because they give it an interesting texture. I especially like macadamias because they're groovy. We haven't had nuts in our salad for a few years because of the children.
3. Vegetables. Yes, well. I guess they're kind of a given really. Salad greens obviously and herbs are great in summer and who can go past tomatoes when they're in their peak season? In winter, you can roast veggies (potato, pumpkin, sweet potato, beetroot, tomatoes, leek, onion, garlic) and dress them with a light vinegarette and serve warm.
4. Fruit. I love fruit in main meals. I like to add grapes to greek salad (I also love grapes on pizza with olives, spinach or vine leaves and fetta). There's a recipe below with barbecued peaches in a summer salad. Pear and pecans were made for each other. Strawberries and spinach. Sultanas or raisins in coleslaw. Marshmallows in salad though, that's just freakin. I can't go there.
5. Dressing. I tend to make fairly simple salad dressings. I am not big on lots of ingredients because I think the flavour should come from the salad rather than the dressing. My bog standard is olive oil, lemon juice and garlic. Lemon juice can be replaced with red wine vinegar or balsamic (but I like lemons). Pomegranate molasses is my new favourite thing, you just need a dash of it to get a strong flavour. When we were trying to get Fred to eat salads we put honey in the dressing with great success. Sometimes I make the dressing in a screwtop jar and shake it, sometimes in a bowl and I stir it with a fork and often I just pour it all directly on the salad. I never serve dressings on the side, I always dress the salad myself, and I have never found a prepared supermarket dressing that I like - they are all too acidic. I seldom use mayonaisse, I prefer vinegarette dressings on potato salad and if there is any warm ingredients going into the salad (like cooked cauliflower or roast veggies) I dress it warm and then let it cool down because the flavours combine better.

Some salads:
Daggy (c1993) Chicken Salad: Chicken breast cut into strips and pan-fried in soy sauce, oil, honey, and garlic (you could marinate it but I never get around to that). Combine with bean shoots (the phat ones), grapes, red capsicum, celery, mushrooms and pineapple chunks. I don't think you need dressing for this salad.

Strawberry and spinach: (there's a few ways to make this, this is how I do it). Hull and halve a punnet or two of strawberries, combine with a big bag of spinach leaves. Toss with dressing and sprinkle over sunflower seeds.
Dressing: combine a tablespoon of tahini with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, add lime juice (about one lime), sugar or honey to taste (it should be quite sweet, a finely chopped spring onion) and one garlic clove.

Panzanella (or as it is tres classily called in this house wet bread salad): A few big slices of day old good bread (this salad is FANTASTIC made with Phillipas fig and anise bread but good with any sourdough bread), crusts removed. Dampen the bread, squeeze out the excess water and crumble into the bowl. Add to a salad of whatever you like but in this house the core ingredients are really fantastic tomatoes, and a green herb (coriander, flat-leaf parsley, mint or basil). In there as well might be celery, hard boiled eggs, capers or olives (I like green), mushrooms, bacon or tuna and cucumber. I think the secret to this salad is to chop everything up quite small. Dress with olive oil, garlic and balsamic, and black pepper. We wouldn't use salt, especially if we've got capers or olives in there but hey, whatever floats your raft.

Peach and Asparagus: BBQ halved peaches and asparagus with the ends snapped off. Toss with spinach leaves (the leaves will wilt which is all good). Dress with a little oil and some pomegranate molasses. Or if you don't have that make a dressing of oil, honey and balsamic.

Lentil and orange: I love green or brown lentils in a salad. I usually get the French puy ones because even though they're dearer lentils are always good value for money and the little ones taste better. I like hearty warm lentil salads in winter with bacon and roast potato or something like that to chunk it out. Ooh and lots of mustard. Lentils and mustard should get married and have babies. Anyway, a simple salad is brown lentil and orange. You can soak the lentils beforehand if you like them really tender but you don't have to. Just cook them in water, make sure they don't boil dry, add more water if you don't think they're cooked enough. You can cook them in stock, which I particularly recommend for winter. For summer though, combine green lentils (you know, about as much as you think you'd like to eat), segments of orange, and mint (I really heart mint), and dress with olive oil, orange juice, walnuts if you don't have littlies, and grainy mustard. Because you now know my firm opinion on mustard and lentils. Married. Babies.

Fred started eating salad at about two and a half, when she could serve herself (before that she lived almost exclusively on bananas, apple and yoghurt). Una eats everything. I always try and put a couple of things in a salad that I know they'll eat, like crispy noodles or fruit or roasted cubes of sweet potato or grated carrot.

I am procrastinating. Can you tell?