Lego for Salads: Part I

As a self taught cook, I have learnt to make salads from scratch. A lot of my friends who pride themselves to be “hardcore non vegetarians” make exceptions and  eat the salads I make. Here, in a nutshell are some pointers and tips to “build” a good salad at home, that will hopefully satisfy both your taste buds and tummy. Use a combination of these elements and your dining table will end up looking more exciting.

You are not eating a forest

While leafy green salads are undoubtedly low on calories, they are not necessarily tasty. I, for one, feel bovine chewing too many leaves during my meals! A foundation of an assortment of fresh salad greens is good, if the quantity is kept under control (read: at 30% of the total salad volume). My personal favorite is rocket or arugula for its peppery aftertaste. But just use whatever looks bright and crunchy. Even iceberg lettuce, the most insipid of them all, will do.

Tip: Gently folding salad greens in a kitchen towel before refrigerating, will keep them fresher longer.

Eat local, eat seasonal

It is nice to see fancy salads in magazines but sometimes the ingredients that go into making them can be hard to source from local markets. Substitute them with what you have in hand. If cucumbers and tomatoes seem boring, use boiled baby potatoes, pan roasted pumpkin, chargrilled spring onions, blanched broccoli or roasted beets.

Tip: Pan roast cubed brinjals with salt, pepper and dry herbs. This is a great addition to any salad, especially those that contain feta cheese.

Add interesting grains and legumes

This doesn’t have to be a fancy expensive grain like quinoa, buckwheat or faro.

Rajma, sprouts and chickpeas are all integral parts of our Indian diet. Boil and use these in your salads, but make sure they are slightly undercooked or al dente.  Brown rice can elevate your dish with its wonderful nutty taste.

Tip: Use boiled whole masoor dal (black). The flavor pairs really well with pumpkin.

Fruits in cahoots

Melon, mango, apple, orange, pear, apricots, figs, pineapple and many other fresh fruits integrate well with salad greens. Seasonal fruits like Narkoli kool (jujube) and Jaamrul (java apple) are neutral in taste and crunchy, making them perfect for salads.

Tip: Sliced onions brined in vinegar, salt and sugar makes an excellent and cheap substitute for expensive bottled products like olives, capers or gherkins.

Next week we will conclude this topic with more salad ideas.

Cover photo: Shredded pork and mung bean salad with crunchy vegetables and lemongrass dressing

Photo courtesy: Subhasree Basu

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