(Continued from last week’s column)
Nuts and chutzpah
Crunch is an integral part of a salad and mostly it is imparted from the nuts that are used for toppings. Walnuts are great when caramelized, peanuts are better when crushed and pinenuts are good simply toasted. Crunchy croutons can also be used as a cheap substitute for nuts.
Tip: In Shillong, I had a beef salad with a garnish of dry roasted raw rice. Which led me to use fried and crushed Vadis (lentil dumplings) as a topping too.
Pleased to meat you
Adding meat or seafood to a salad makes it a potential one bowl meal. You can add cold cuts like salami or sausage, you can add shredded chicken, boiled eggs, roast lamb or pork. Lightly pan fried bacon makes a welcome addition and the fat drippings can be used in the dressing to enhance the overall flavor of the dish. In my opinion, seafood if poached well, tastes brilliant in minimalistic salads. But this is a tricky exercise because the poaching time is crucial.
Tip: Instead of shredded chicken breast which can be cardboard-like insipid, poach chicken thighs till they fall off the bone and use them – a tastier and juicier alternative.
Basic vinaigrettes are the easiest and most practical. There is a large variety of fruit vinegars available in the market. These have no expiry dates, so go for them. My personal favorite is the balsamic vinegar for its versatility. For fans of Pan Asian food, stocking up on good quality soy, sesame oil and fish sauce is a must. A basic pesto sauce can be turned into a quick salad dressing with a dash of vinegar. When I am short on time, I stir some vinegar and olive oil with a fruit preserve or marmalade and it turns into a beautiful tangy drizzle. The same treatment works with sweet pickles like Murabbas or Chhundo. Usually I avoid mayo based dressings because they remind me of fastfood outlet salads, although I do understand these can be convenient. If you are feeling adventurous, just let go. I once used coconut milk, honey and grated raw mango with a tempering of curry leaves and it totally worked as a dressing!
Tip: There are so many things you can do to a yogurt dressing just by combining it with spices of choice. Try using sambar powder, bhaja moshla (powder of dry roasted cumin and dry red chillies) or even a Middle Eastern Zatar.
Remember, a well made salad is much greater than the sum of its parts, potentially substituting your dinner and pleasing your tummy.
Cover: Watermelon salad with rocket, olives, feta with balsamic dressing
Photo courtesy: Subhasree Basu