Remember when a salad consisted only of some limp lettuce, tasteless tomatoes, soggy pickled beetroot and a few slices of cucumber?
Thankfully times have changed and I was pleasantly surprised walking around my local supermarket the other day at the many different varieties of lettuce and salad leaves available. You don’t even have to go through the hassle of cleaning your lettuce as you can buy ready mixed salad leaves, full of different flavours, textures and colours all cleaned and ready to eat. All you need to do is drizzle the leaves with a little dressing at the last minute and tuck in.
So what is the correct dress code when talking salads?
Vinaigrettes, tossed with salad leaves, drizzled over poached fish, pooled around a nest of steamed vegetables, or adding just a touch of gloss to plateful of boiled potatoes, help to jazz up the most elementary of foods. They are the simple yet sublime components of countless appetizers, salads, main courses, and even some desserts.
At first glance, making vinaigrettes could not be simpler: just a swirl of oil, a dash of vinegar, seasoning, and perhaps some mustard and herbs. But the making of a good dressing needs a little care and attention. They should be sublime and smooth with just a hint of tartness to coat and coax the flavour of all the other ingredients. So please, ditch the malt vinegar.
Mastering the art of the vinaigrette relies on a few basic rules that are easy to follow. Firstly it is important is that the ingredients should be of the highest quality, use top quality olive oils and vinegar as the balance of those ingredients is crucial. For me, the proportions of these ingredients depend on the dish, but the general rule is that there should be four parts oil to one part vinegar. Once the basic formula is grasped, all manner of variations can be used. I like to make my vinaigrette with fresh lemon juice, lime or grapefruit juice instead of vinegar but balsamic vinegar makes a sweeter dressing and aged sherry vinegar is also a fantastic option. It’s always a good idea to add a little flavour and bite to vinaigrette by adding diced tomatoes, chopped shallots and fresh herbs. To add different flavours you could use walnut oil, hazelnut oil or even avocado oil in place of the olive oil or infuse the oil with spices, garlic, truffles and other flavourings for a tastier dressing. For a complete change substitute creamy natural yoghurt for the oil in a dressing and add lemon juice and herbs. When buying lettuces look for fresh, blemish-free leaves and avoid those that droop or wilt. Buy them on the same day as they are highly perishable and deteriorate very quickly.
Salad leaves do a body good, some have high levels of vitamin c (such as watercress) and calcium. Others contain substantial amounts of potassium, vitamin a, beta carotene and add much-needed fibre to the diet. So break out the salads this summer, stay cool and stay healthy.
ASPARAGUS WITH MUSTARD SEED VINAIGRETTE
Ingredients: serves 2
6 asparagus spears, peeled and trimmed
1tbsp wholegrain mustard
1tbsp white wine vinegar
3tbsp olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Bring a medium pan of water to the boil and cook the asparagus for 2-3 minutes. Drain. In a bowl, whisk together the mustard, vinegar, seasoning and oil to combine. Add the cooked asparagus and toss together to coat the spears. Transfer the asparagus to a plate and serve.
SALAD OF SQUID, NEW POTATOES, ROCKET LEAVES, CHORIZO AND PASSION FRUIT OIL
Ingredients: serves 6
3 fresh squid, cleaned and scored
18 new potatoes, boiled
18 thin slices of chorizo "iberico"
6 asparagus tips 2 bunches of rocket leaves
pulp of 6 passion fruits
150ml orange juice
150ml olive oil
Sea salt and pepper
To make the passion fruit oil: Place the passion fruit pulp and orange juice in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Simmer gently and reduce until it just starts to thicken. Pass through a fine sieve and whisk in the olive oil. Season to taste. Heat a grill pan. Cut the cooked potatoes in half lengthways. Toss them in a little olive oil and season. Place the potatoes on the grill and mark for 1-2 minutes. Grill the squid for 30 seconds on each side then add the chorizo slices to warm through. Place all the warm ingredients in a bowl, add a few tablespoons of passion fruit oil, rocket leaves and mix well.
To serve: Divide the salad between 6 plates, drizzle with a little passion fruit oil and serve.