I love salads. Fresh, light, and easy to make, they are-my-go to food any time of year. Crisp raw vegetables, dressed with something that elevates the flavours, and sometimes cooked bits and bobs too. Incredibly versatile, you can make salads for the side (and why stop at one), big bowl main course salads, simple salads for a starter, or an assortment of separate ingredients for salad-on-the go.
What makes a salad a salad? At one time I would have said the inclusion of raw vegetables, but the lines are blurred even further now so it can be difficult to call. Definitely an assembly of ingredients, served with a dressing; but that is as far as I would like to go. A medley of ingredients, largely vegetable based, with a combination of fresh flavours and textures?
There are infinite possibilities with a salad, especially if you follow my no-holes-barred approach. That is not to say that you can just chuck everything to hand in a bowl and splash it with balsamic. You can actually get away with that on occasion, but taking a more methodical approach will reward you with better flavour and a larger repertoire of ideas. In this week’s salad recipe (look out for this later in the week) I was tempted to throw in some roasted peaches but managed to rein myself in on time. Not only would they have sullied the clear focus of my salad, but it leaves me with a starting point for next time.
Every salad needs a dressing, and there is only so far you can go with a splash of balsamic or drizzle of oil. Again, simplicity is key; using dressing ingredients that will enhance the flavours of your salad. Too many ingredients in the dressing will end up with the same result as overkill in the ingredients department; a confused palate.
So let’s take a look at some ways to elevate your salad making
A well-dressed salad is a study of contrasts; raw to cooked and hot to cold. It is colour, texture and big, big flavour; think herbs, spices, and sharp, salty or fiery elements too.
A big bowl of salad will make your grilled meats go further; buy a big steak and slice it thinly to serve draped on top of salad for two.
Not every salad needs leaves, but look for different varieties, beyond the poly bag; pea shoots, radicchio, chicory and watercress will all bring a grown up edge to your leafy salad. Leaves not only bulk out a salad but add a fresh green background that complements the other flavours.
Fruit is also a welcome addition, adding a sweet element and layer of texture; be it the sensuous slither of ripe mango or the tart crunch of a crisp green apple. Vegetables go way beyond the typical salad types with aubergine, artichoke, or fennel; try crisp chips or cubes of parsnip and sweet potato. Go Asian with beansprouts and crisp julienned vegetables, or embrace the creamy decadence of perfectly ripe avocado.
Don’t forget to raid the deli for Paleo friendly ingredients such as olives, artichokes, roasted peppers and sun blush tomatoes.
You can make a dressing with just about anything; here’s how
The only limitation with Paleo friendly dressing is that you can’t make use of dairy products, but when you consider what else is out there then it really isn’t much of a loss. A good dressing enhances the ingredients and rounds out the flavours. It is the viscous, silky, element of the oil, the acidity of citrus, and the depth of salt that are needed most; everything else depends on the salad ingredients. A salad with fruit in it may not need sweetness in the dressing but a bitter leafy salad of chicory and rocket may benefit from the sweetness of balsamic.
If it will blend down to a runny consistency that will thinly coat your ingredients then you can pretty much make a dressing out of it. We might get bored of the oil/vinegar scenario or even oil and lemon, but they do bring particular properties to a salad. As does a good pinch of salt. The Italians make the most of this by first tossing ingredients in salt. Then lightly coating in oil, then a minimal amount of vinegar; it brings the whole plate alive. A decent vinaigrette creates an emulsion that clings to the leaves and often carries with it extra flavour in the form of herbs or additional condiments. The basic ratio is 3:1 in the favour of oil; plus a pinch of salt and a teaspoon of mustard, horseradish, or chopped herbs.
Citrus works in much the same way as vinegar, although the acidity is slightly different to that of vinegar. Mix up your citrus by replacing lemon with lime, orange or pomegranate juice.
Add other flavour elements to your dressing; crushed garlic, grated ginger, chopped chilli, or chopped herbs. Infuse spices in hot oil and pour, sizzling, over a leafy salad dotted with cubes of fried sweet potato.
The oily element can be replicated too. Add a few tablespoons of water to thin down mayonnaise, or almond butter, or tahini. Add a sharp element and additional flavour and you have a dressing. Blend avocado in the same way. Use sesame oil for a nutty flavour; complete the profile with coconut aminos, add grated ginger, and you have an Asian dressing perfect for a crunchy raw slaw.
You will hopefully now have some inspiration to start making your own salad dressings and really bringing your food to life. Look out for our salad recipe later this week which has a gorgeous tahini dressing. Delicious and not to be missed! In the meantime, here are a few dressing ideas to get you started.
Paleo Caesar Dressing
150ml olive oil
1 clove garlic
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Blanch the garlic for a minute or two in boiling water to remove the acrid sting.
2. Blitz together all of the ingredients to form a thick viscous dressing.
Nutty Thai Dressing
1 tbsp nut butter
½ clove garlic, crushed
½ inch ginger, grated
2 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp water
1 red chilli, chopped
1. Blend the ingredients together to form a thick dressing.
2. You can adjust the liquid quantities to your liking.
Mexican Avocado Dressing
1 very ripe avocado
2 spring onions, chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1 lime, juice only
½ clove garlic, crushed
½ red chilli, chopped
1 tbsp. fresh coriander
1. Blend the ingredients with enough water to form a dressing.
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