Is there more to a salad than leafy greens?
Since we’ve touch on the wonderful world of herbs and spices and are now aware of the magic that they can perform in the preparation of food, it is time to practice the application of these herbs and spices and therefore flavours. I have always found that the best place to start with flavours is with an uncomplicated, though very technical, course of our menu, that being salads.
We first, though, have to be able to identify a salad for, as I always explain to my students, there is a rhyme, rhythm and reason to everything done in the kitchen. So how do we identify a salad? As is also emphasized in our classes, everything in the kitchen, from tools and equipment, large or small, to dishes on the menu, is identified by its body parts. What body parts? Aren’t we talking about food?
Well, here is the explanation: to qualify as a salad, the dish being served must consist of four body parts, those being a base, a filling, a dressing and a garnish. If you refer to the Chefs’ Bible which, for us, is the Larousse Gastronomique, a salad is described as “. . . a dish of raw or cold cooked foods, usually dressed and seasoned, served as an hors d’oeuvre, side dish etc . . .”
But like everything else, cooking has evolved rapidly over the years. So the description of a salad would have also evolved. Salads are no longer restricted only to this definition or only to being a side dish, but have become very versatile and can be served at every course of the meal.
Let’s deal with the structure! The base, usually the leafy green on which the salad is placed, can range from any type or variety of lettuce to cabbage, spinach or anything along these lines. They are usually vitamin-rich. Then there is the body which is the main portion of the salad and usually, will determine the name.
Then there’s the dressing, a skillfully flavoured, well-balanced liquid used to add even more flavour and texture to the salad. And, to top it off, there is the garnish whose job is to add that extra beauty and some nutritional value to the salad. You may think ‘Ok, that’s simple enough!’. This, however, is food science and it is never just as simple as that, as there are many more complexities to a salad.
For instance, are we serving a warm salad or a cold one? Are we serving a simple salad or a composed one? Will it be a vitamin-rich or a protein-rich salad? All of this is determined by the overall structure of your menu. As the chef in charge of that menu, you have to determine which of these characteristics are required for the specific salad and would assist in providing total balance to the menu.
The only way you can do that effectively is by understanding each characteristic and what it brings to the final product. You first need to know if you are serving an appetizer salad, a main course salad, an accompaniment salad or if you are serving a dessert salad.
We will first look at warm and cold salads. Salads can be prepared with cooked and cooled, to warm ingredients. For example, grilled or fried chicken or poached fish or, in the case of a dessert salad, poached fruit. You may also have a salad that is served chilled or at room temperature with a warm dressing, or you can just have your more familiar salad served crisp and cold on a cold plate.
A simple salad is your salad base with just one or two items lying on top of this base, served with an interesting salad dressing and garnished. There is also the combined salad which is a salad mixed and held together with a thick salad dressing which, in most cases, is a mayonnaise-type dressing, but it could also be made from yogurt, cream cheese or other dairy products.
Then, there is the composed salad which is a number of ingredients decorated on the plate and laced with salad dressing. The accompaniment salad is usually a vitamin-rich salad served, as is self-described, to accompany the main course. This brings us to the dessert salad which can be served hot or cold, but what makes the difference here is the dressing which is usually slightly thicker and sweetened with sugar-flavoured syrup, honey and such like.
Last, but not least, we look at the garnish which must always be edible, as should be every other part of that salad. This means no picking of flowers from the tree in the backyard, no using of shrubs from the hedge outside, or no use of leaves from the old bearded fig tree. Although they can all be used as decoration, they should never be used to make up part of the salad. Instead, stick to the tried and tested herbs and vegetables, even freshly cut fruit, as your garnish of choice, as these will be safe and will provide that added bit of nutrition to your salad.
In our next article, we will discuss what is a vitamin-rich or protein-rich salad and where it can be served on the menu. We’ll also explore the wonderful world of salad dressings. Meanwhile, here’s a simple salad for you to practice which can be made with breadfruit, sweet potatoes, even eddoes or firm cooked pumpkin.
Root vegetable salad
1 lb root vegetables, cooked
2 ozs onion, chopped finely
1 oz green bell pepper, small diced
1 oz red bell pepper, small diced
1 oz celery, chopped finely
2 tbsp chopped chives
4 ozs mayonnaise
1 oz mustard
1 tsp lime juice
Salt & pepper to taste
1. Boil root vegetables in plenty of salted water until cooked, but still firm
2. Strain and allow to cool completely
3. When cooled, cut in 1 inch dices, sprinkle with peppers, onions and chive; toss lightly
4. In a bowl, mix mayonnaise, mustard, lime juice, salt and pepper. Pour over root vegetables and mix lightly until coated; do not over-mix.
5. Refrigerate for at least one hour and serve on a bed of crisp vegetables; can be garnished with tomato and egg wedges
(Peter Edey is a Certified Executive Chef with the American Culinary Federation, a graduate of l’École Ritz Escoffier, Paris and a Certified Caribbean Hospitality Trainer. Email: [email protected])