A Sunny Sunday Salad
It was the most glorious day today.
My apartment faces north, and the Winter sun was shining brilliantly into the living room. It's been such a cold few weeks in Canberra and when the sun shone through the window today I just wanted to lie down and bask in the warmth.
The weather on Saturday was very different, with moody clouds and a biting wind. I rugged up in thermals and a down jacket to make my way to the Farmers Market. There's been a glut of beautiful winter veggies and I was thrilled to pick up a few bargains. Fennel at a dollar each, baby beetroot at two bunches for three dollars, and I got a big paper bag of delicate mixed leaves. It may have taken a triple shot of coffee to lure me out into the cold but it was definitely worth it.
Salad is one of those things that seems to have a terrible reputation. Perhaps it's memories of iceberg lettuce, limp with dressing that put people off. But not me.
I fucking love salad.
It's one of my favourite ways to eat vegetables. Think about it. There are so few limits on what you can put in a salad. They can be warm or cold. They can be filled with grains or pulses or cheese or nuts. Most cuisines have salads in one form or another and I struggle to think of a vegetable that couldn't find a home in a good salad. The possibilities are endless! In this piece I thought I would tell you all about my sunny Sunday, and a few bits and bobs about how I build a salad.
Contrast & Variety
If you're having salad as your whole meal (rather than as an accompaniment or side dish) it's important to think about how to keep your tastebuds excited for the entire bowl. I use contrast and variety to turn okay salads into great salads.
First up, the leaves. I was fortunate to have found a beautiful mix of salad leaves that already had a good variety. There was purple rocket, curly endive, tatsoi and baby red sorrel in the mix and I added bitter radicchio and peppery watercress. So right out of the gate there's some variety in the colours, textures and flavours of the greens.
For the 'main event' vegetables I used my market bargains and roasted the fennel and baby beetroots in the oven until they were just tender, but still had a little bite in them. Seasoning is important (remember?) so I chucked some salt, pepper, olive oil and a few sprigs of rosemary in the oven with them. To contrast the earthy, roasted, root vegetables I segmented a couple of blood oranges. Scattered through the salad they give a big citrusy pop every couple of mouthfuls which keeps the whole thing beautifully fresh.
Vibrant bitter greens. Warm earthy vegetables. Bright sour citrus.
Contrast. Variety. Delicious.
All Dressed Up
A good dressing is easy and excellent and if you're not dressing your salads then quite frankly you should be ashamed of yourself. Important: fat is not a dirty word and, (in moderation, yes Mum) it's a crucial part of any dish. In most salads the fat is found in the dressing, usually in the form of oil. Fat and oil take the flavour molecules of your food and coat them around your mouth. This means you taste the food with more areas of your tongue, and the flavour stays there longer.
Usually when you take a forkful of a homemade dish the flavour hits your tongue and then is gone as soon as you've swallowed. When you taste something in a restaurant the flavour hits your tongue and then sticks, rolling around your mouth. You taste the food in all parts of your mouth and you can still taste it even after you swallow. The oil in your dressing is going to make your salad shine- literally and figuratively.
I had a big glass bottle refilled with local extra virgin olive oil at the markets (#saynotoplastic) and I used this for the base of my dressing. When I segemented the oranges I saved the extra juice and a little zest which I mixed with the oil, a good pinch of sea salt and a few cracks of pepper. Simple, but so good. I served the salad with some fresh sourdough and my friends were soaking their bread in the dressing- they couldn't get enough of it.
For Those Who Want A Little Something Extra...
I think we can all agree that we already have a killer salad.
A home run, if you will.
BUT I had a hankering for something smokey and I'd bought some salmon at the markets so I decided to treat myself (and my guests) with some home made, hot smoked salmon as an extra little something special.
Overnight I covered the salmon in a mix of equal parts salt and brown sugar with some fennel seeds and loose tea leaves. If left for several days this would cure the salmon into preserved salmon Gravlax, a traditional Nordic delicacy. But overnight it gives the fillets lovely flavour and pulls just a little liquid out of the flesh.
I rigged up a simple hot-smoker by lining my wok with al-foil and adding a mix of sugar, arborio rice, tea leaves and a bit of peel from the oranges. A perforated tray, or baking rack sits above this. The salmon fillets are washed of the salt and dried before oiling the skin and sitting them on the tray. A tight fitting lid on top will keep most of that precious smoke in. I turned the heat on high until I could begin to the smell the smoke and then turned it down to a medium heat and left the salmon to smoke for about 10 minutes. In this time the flesh will turn a deep orange and cook almost all the way through. I like to leave the centre just a little pink. The skin will peel off the fillets, and the flesh will flake itself apart. The results are fatty, smokey, salty pockets of flavour.
To be clear, there was honestly very little salmon in the salad and you can easily go without it. I only used two medium fillets and shared the dish between four people so it was certainly not the star of the show, rather, a team player that elevated the dish to something of a special occasion. If I hadn't used the salmon I might have added some goats cheese, or salted pistachios for another contrasting ingredient.
Do Make Friends With Salad
This is good advice in two different ways. First of all, learn to love having a meal of dressed vegetables because they are delicious and good for you. If you're having a good salad it WILL be interesting and you WILL feel satisfied and you WON'T be bored. Salads are definitely not just for yoga nuts and health freaks (no offence intended to yoga nuts and health freaks). I reckon they are one of the most creative avenues for cooking and eating vegetables.
The other way you can make friends with salad is by feeding salad to people and becoming their friend (see what I did there?). I love communal, shared meals and salads are a perfect dish to serve in the centre of the table. If your salad is anywhere near as beautiful as this one it will make a terrific centrepiece too.
With a glass of Riesling in hand, I sat in the sun as my friends gathered around the table, sharing a salad, and chatting together.
What a perfect sunny Sunday.
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