Salads are amazing as a meal in themselves or accompanying another dish. Done well – divine but I have so often been put off by a soggy dish of brown leaves with an overpowering vinegary salad dressing.
The ‘get right’ salad basics include choosing the crispest of greens and freshest of herbs and when bought get them home as soon as possible so that flavours wont drift away in the boot of your car. Wash if necessary and add some ice to the washing water if they have wilted a bit. Treat your leaves with love and dry flat in a tea towel or spinner.
Mild leaves include butterhead, lollo rosso, spinach, gem, lambs lettuce. Pepper can be found in rocket, mizuna, watercress. Bitterness from some radicchio and don’t forget about the less well known leaves and cabbages such as Savoy, Chinese Leaves and even Kale.
Oils and Vinegars
The simplest plate of leaves becomes a taste sensation with the right oil and vinegar. The shops are full of choices and I would advise buying a selection of them and tasting and experimenting until you have found the ones you love. Try and look for brands advertising proper aging and showing good colour as a cheap brand is exactly that and will generally sabotage all your work in getting your lovely leaves ready. I use extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) for all my dressings and when a vegetable oil is called for I use a first press rapeseed or sunflower (especially for mayonnaises as 100% olive oil would be too strong). If I’m making mayonnaise I often infuse some of my EVOO with rosemary, thyme or even some chorizo oil. Nut oils are great for adding interest to dressings and combined with some of the vinegar suggested below. Hazlenut is wonderful with a bit of orange zest, As with other oils it is best to store them in a cool dark place.
Balsamic vinegar is one of my favourite – intense, sweet and sour, very aromatic. Sherry Vinegar from Spain comes a close second and is also amazing in making a delicious jus or Madeira sauce. Red and White wine vinegars are also great and I use them loads when making savoury jams such red onion marmalade or fennel jam.
Anyway on to a recipe or two – try them and let me know what you think.
This dressing is delicious, lemony sherbert, sweet, sour and great on north African salads or a mediterranean salad with a cheese in it such as mozzarella or feta.
4-5 Tbsp pomegranate molasses
Juice of half a lemon
1 garlic clove chopped and crushed to a pulp
4-5 tbsp Extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp sugar
Good pinch of ground cumin.
Salt and pepper – freshly pounded Maldon and ground black pepper – to taste. I like a good few twists of pepper and about 1/2 tsp of salt.
Put all these ingredients into a small deep bowl and using a fork or small whisk ensure all the ingredients are combined. To dress the leaves I like to add them into a big bowl and sprinkle the dressing over and toss them the leaves with my hand to ensure all they are glistening with the dressing.
The classic vinaigrette is twice the oil to vinegar, chopped crushed garlic, Dijon mustard and seasoning including a pinch of sugar if needed. However there are loads of options, change the mustard type, add some fresh chopped herbs, perhaps some orange juice and drizzle of hazelnut oil … lots of options for variation.