Salad savvy and 4 easy salads

Salads can be appetizing and exciting or boringly old fashioned!

When planning your salad menu consider variation in colour, texture, nutritional balance and flavour. Also consider how the salad will complement the other food served. Sometimes a rich, creamy dressed salad is perfect with a plain grilled protein. On other occasions you may want fresher textures and flavours.

Unless I have delicious crisp lettuce, a fresh selection of greens from the garden or the greens form an essential part of the salad e.g. a Caesar salad I tend to avoid leaf-based salads. I think this is because I’ve dumped too many remains of green salads in the bin in the past!

Nutritional balance

To most of us this will be an unconscious decision, but I did CRINGE when I heard someone say that they were serving both potato and pasta salad in the same meal! And both had a mayo based dressing…… another cringe!

Consider the dressing styles, textures and flavour

Just as you don’t want to repeat mayo, you certainly don’t want every salad drenched in an olive oil and vinegar dressing. Dressings need not be complex. If you have a few good vinegars, use fruit juice or a pesto as a base you can easily bring sufficient variation. The dressing must compliment the ingredients in the salad and the other foods served.

If you buy commercially prepared dressings avoid those packed with cheap powdered flavourings. Rather opt for brands which are MSG free and resemble a home-made dressings. Personally I find dressings overpriced & prefer to quickly mix my own.

Avoid overpowering flavours

Use onion, peppers (capsicum) and garlic sensitively

Personally I avoid using peppers as I find green pepper unacceptably overpowering. The red, yellow and orange varieties are gentler and best used after they have been blanched or grilled and marinated. My rule is to use peppers in a separate dish where your guests can choose to eat them.

Don’t add onion to every salad!

Onion flavours can also dominate. Red onions and spring onions are more gentle. In most cases I preferably place chopped or sliced onions in a vinegar based pickle for a few hours before use in a salad. A mere 30 minutes in a pickle can make a huge difference.

Lightly pickle the onion to soften the flavours

Garlic rubbed on the surface of the serving dish imparts a light flavour without overpowering other ingredients. If you need more garlic add it to the dressing or serve aioli (garlicky mayonnaise)!

Keep it simple!

I shudder when I see one of those huge salad bowls strewn with about 10 ingredients! I call these “fridge clean out” salads!

Consider the other foods served and the balance of the flavours

In this Cucumber and Ginger Salad only 3 ingredients are used. It is beautifully fresh and one of those salads that marry perfectly with Asian flavours. It is also delicious served with seafood.

Cucumber & Ginger Salad

Click Here for Recipe: Cucumber Salad with Ginger

Where possible allow fresh, seasonal ingredients to be the hero

Tomato Salad with light Red Onion Vinaigrette

Select a variety of tomatoes, considering the colours and shapes

For the vinaigrette you need

100ml white wine vinegar

½ red onion very finely chopped

5ml sugar

100ml good quality extra virgin olive oil

1 clove garlic

 To prepare

A few hours ahead of time: mix the onion, vinegar and sugar in a small bowl and set it aside

About an hour before serving, prepare the tomatoes. Bear in mind the various shapes. Small tomatoes may simply be halved, others quartered and others sliced. Don’t not be tempted to leave cherry tomatoes whole, as they can cause a mess at the table when pierced by a fork!

Slice the garlic clove in half and rub the serving dish to impart just a delicate flavour. Discard the balance of the garlic

Mix the oil with the vinegar and onion and pour it over the tomatoes, lightly coating them

Arrange the tomatoes on a serving dish

You may add basil or thyme, but in this case I kept the tomatoes plain to appreciate their fresh, ripe flavour.

Don’t overlook the convenience of pre-prepared ingredients 

Tinned beans, and some vegetables that may take ages to cook or not be readily available. This artichoke salad is an example. The artichoke season is short and very limited in South Africa. Look out for, bottled or tinned beautifully cooked and marinated artichokes at your local deli or fine food purveyor. They are usually imported from Italy, pricey but a real treat for special occasions.

Quick Artichoke Salad

Drain a can or jar of artichokes, keeping the oil (I usually buy an approx 900g jar or can)

Finely grated zest 1 orange

Zest strips from 1 orange

Juice from 1 or 2 oranges

150ml oil from the drained artichokes

20ml chopped parsley or fresh oregano

Place the artichokes in a serving bowl

Mix the zest, juice and oil; pour this over the artichokes and mix lightly

Sprinkle over the zest strips and chopped herbs

Serve at room temperature (olive oil is usually used and it thickens in the fridge)

Use interesting grains

Instead of the usual potato, rice or pasta salad consider one of the ‘new grains’.

Quinoa for example has enough amino acids to provide a protein rich meal for vegetarians and vegans. The following recipe also uses tinned beans providing additional proteins.

Try this delicious, easy Quinoa Salad with Green Dressing and Avo. Click Here

Enjoy your summer salads!