When I say salad what do you think of? A limp and uninspired side salad, masquerading as one of your five a day? Or a plate full of lovely, crisp vegetables dressed in something sweet and sharp and smooth? For me, a salad is a thing of infinite variety and colour, a thing of beauty, taste and texture. If you think I am getting a little carried away you need to understand where I started.
When I was growing up we didn’t eat salad with something, salad was a meal in itself and it was pretty much the same every time we ate it – a circle of soft, limp lettuce leaves topped with cucumber, tomato, spring onions and hard boiled eggs. The eggs themselves would have been sliced in one of those little devices where the egg nestles safely in a grooved plastic hollow, blissfully unaware of the carnage descending upon it in the form of razor sharp wires like some miniature guillotine dealing harsh justice in the egg revolution. OK now I am getting carried away but these were the sort of games I played when I was eight!
In the centre of the plate would be some slices of cheese, or tinned ham or possibly Spam or corned beef. You will notice the use of the word “or”, it was a rare event indeed to see ham and cheese on the same plate. This joyful plate of food would be drizzled liberally with salad cream and served with bread and butter and sunshine – always there was sunshine. Did I say “joyful”? Yes I did because I really liked having salad for tea (that’s dinner for my Southern readers). I liked that my dad had probably grown the lettuce and tomatoes, I liked being able to help make the meal and I liked salad cream. If you have never eaten a salad cream sandwich you have never lived!
The salads I make now tend to be a little more adventurous: Moroccan spiced roasted carrots with rocket and sunflower seeds, shaved fennel and orange segments or, what is lovingly dubbed, the super salad. The super salad is really just a big bowl full of all the vegetables and leaves I have to hand. The one in the photo had asparagus, beetroot, avocado, rocket, baby herbs, roasted carrots and the tail end of some goats cheese that was sitting in the fridge feeling unwanted. The whole thing was tossed in a simple dressing made from olive oil and lemon juice which enhanced rather than masked the other flavours. Finally I topped it with some toasted walnuts to add a little crunch.
Is this a recipe? Not really because salads give you the perfect opportunity to experiment. Try interesting combinations based on what’s in season (or even what is in the fridge). I will never make that exact salad again because I didn’t weigh anything or measure anything – I just piled it all in a bowl, dressed it and served it. It was delicious but if I am totally honest it would probably have been better withoiut the avocado in this instance. The goats cheese and walnuts made it a complete meal in itself but we ate it with some simple roast chicken and new potatoes so it felt really indulgent.
When it comes to dressing a salad you can experiment again. The basic recipe for an oil based dressing is 3 parts oil to 1 part acid (vinegar or lemon juice). To that you can add other flavours; salt & pepper, a little mustard or Worcestershire sauce for depth and maybe some sweetness in the form of honey or fruit juice etc. Add a little and taste it – trust your palate and invent something scrummy.
So would I ever use salad cream again? You bet I would – it’s delicious – try it in a potato salad instead of mayonnaise – you’ll never look back.