I’ve heard that professional chefs can always tell the calibre of a prospective new member of their brigade by getting them to cook scrambled eggs. Personally, I feel that putting together a nicely dressed bowl of fresh salad leaves might reveal a whole lot more.
It’s no use pretending that lifeless, pre-washed salad leaves (often rinsed in a chlorine wash and then handled by multiple pairs of hands and preserved with a blast of gas before being bagged!) or the familiar shrink-wrapped iceberg lettuce is going to cut it, if you want to make a decent salad.
Nothing compares to truly fresh salad leaves, so start with the freshest greens you can find, preferably organically grown. Find whole lettuce that has a ‘just-picked’ appearance such as romaine or little gem, or a head of leaves like soft, tender English lettuce or green, red, bronze oak leaf lettuce.
Build your salad from there by adding a variety of other salad greens. Perhaps some mild tender mâche (lambs lettuce), rocket, bright peppery watercress (ideally bought by the bunch) or in winter, chicories. Add to these some young sweet ‘living’ leaves, pea shoots, fresh growing herbs or mustard and cress.
Packed with essential nutrients and virtually carb-free, a generous daily portion of raw healthy salad greens is the most gratifying accompaniment to any meal. In my view, a perfect tossed green salad that’s well balanced and well dressed is also the hallmark of a great cook.
Simply Salad (V)
Ingredients - Salad
This isn’t so much of a recipe with pre-determined ingredients as it is a general guide to salad making. Primarily let the season, what's looking at it’s best and what you fancy determine your choice. If you’re willing to shop and cook in a way that nourishes your body and satisfies your soul, the possibilities are endless!
The only proviso is that for a tossed green salad, keep it simple - it really doesn’t need anything more than a well-balanced classic French Dressing.
Alternatively, you can create your own ‘house’ salad by adding a riotous colour of different fruits and vegetables, together with your favourite dressing.
When you’re trying to judge portion sizes, allow a large rounded handful of green leaves per person (my hands are small, so it’s more like both hands cupped together!)
The salad pictured here was a mixture of Romaine and Little Gem lettuce hearts, wafer thin slices of fennel, wild rocket, watercress, red and white Belgian chicories, thinly sliced red and yellow peppers, Sundream vine tomatoes, flat leaf parsley and avocado.
Ingredients - For the French dressing
120ml (4½ fl oz) olive oil (I used half organic cold pressed olive oil and half organic cold pressed avocado oil)
40ml (1 ½ fl oz) organic raw apple cider vinegar
1 tsp sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp clear ‘runny’ raw organic honey, or maple syrup
First make the vinaigrette dressing. Mix the vinegar, sea salt, pepper, honey and mustard together in a medium sized bowl and give it a good whisk. Add the oil a small dash at a time, whisking well between each addition. Continue adding the oil until it is all amalgamated into vinaigrette. Check and adjust the seasoning if necessary (if it tastes a little tart, a single drop of liquid Stevia will help compensate).
Remove the base of the stalk and any roots attached to your lettuce together with any tough, yellowing or damaged outside leaves. If the leaves are small, leave them whole. Larger leaves should be torn along their central rib into bite-sized pieces. Remove any thick stalks from the likes of fresh watercress or spinach.
Many leafy salad greens are grown in sandy soil so to avoid grit ending up in your salad, you’ll need to wash them well. Fill a sink or large soaking bowl full of cold water then gently submerge and swish the leaves around in the water to dislodge any dirt. Handle your leaves lightly, if they get bent small cracks on the surface will cause them to wilt.
When lifting them out of the sink or soaking bowl, don’t just grab them. Spread your hands out underneath the leaves in the water and gently lift them out using your loosely splayed fingers to support them. Lay them out on a clean tea towel and gently pat dry with paper towels.
A salad spinner makes light work of washing and drying. I bought the older model of the iconic OXO Good Grips salad spinner several years ago and it’s an invaluable kitchen-aid that spin dries salad leaves and herbs in seconds without bruising them. First, fill the bowl of the spinner with cold water and submerge the leaves in the spinner basket into the water. Gently swish around in the water to allow any sand to drop through the basket into the bottom of the bowl. Repeat several times with fresh clean water until there’s no sand left in the bottom of the bowl. Pour away the last batch of water then simply put spinner lid on and pump several times to dry. Don’t go mad with the spinning action or you might crush the leaves. Just give it a couple of good spins, then rearrange the leaves, drain the bowl and spin again. Don’t over-fill the spinner basket either, it’s best to spin the leaves in batches rather than cram too much in.
Arrange the dry leaves prettily in a bowl (much larger than you think you need if you intend to dress your salad) together with any other salad ingredients you’re using Cover and keep chilled until you’re ready to serve.
Just before you want to serve your salad, add a few tablespoons of your chosen dressing to the bowl then gently turn the salad over and around with your hands (you can use a couple of large spoons, if you prefer) until everything is evenly and lightly coated in the dressing. Serve immediately.
Don't overdo the dressing on your salad. You want just enough vinaigrette to lightly and evenly coat the leaves rather than drown them out - too much dressing will simply make them go unpleasantly soggy.