SALADS are only for health freaks? Think again! For most urban Malaysians, a bowl of salad has become an important part of their meal due to the health benefits. And salads have become more delicious over the years as people have gotten more creative with their salad recipes. However, while it has become quite common to tuck into a bowl of salad when dining out, a lot of people are still unsure about how to make a great bowl at home.
In the past, Malaysians had a cookie-cutter way of making salads, which basically involved dumping a bunch of lettuce in a bowl, drenching it in Thousand Island dressing, and adding a sprinkle of croutons. Another common (read: nightmare) salad that my aunt used to make entailed filling a large bowl with lettuce, rings of raw onions, sliced hard-boiled eggs, tomatoes and dousing it all with a generous amount of chilli sauce. Apparently, it was how the people in London enjoyed it. But I digress.
Making a delicious salad at home is one of the easiest things to whip up in the kitchen. And you don't even need to use lettuce or chilli sauce. Just follow one simple rule – balance your textures and flavours.
The first thing to tackle is the texture. First-time salad makers usually choose to use the most unintimidating vegetables. Sadly, this usually means they use lettuce as a base. Sometimes, if they’re adventurous, they’d throw in raw onion or sliced tomatoes into the mix. This was perfectly fine to do in the 1990s when you didn't have access to the variety of vegetables that are available today.
Try to use a variety of leafy vegetables because each one brings a different layer of texture and flavour. For example, spinach has a strong bite. Radicchio has a subtle firm bitterness. Kale is fibrous. Any combination of leafy vegetables is far better than using just one type of leafy greens. If you're worried about the cost or choosing the right combination, you can always start by buying a salad mix – they’re usually pre-washed and cost under RM10.
But texture doesn't just come from leafy greens. The best salads also include other types of heartier vegetables, nuts and legumes. More importantly, they don’t need to be raw. You can use root vegetables like roasted potatoes or fennel, or even steamed corn kernels or stir-fried asparagus. Add in beans like garbanzo. Or experiment with roasted almonds or sunflower seeds.
Each additional ingredient adds a layer of texture that makes your final product more complex. And the best part? You can't actually overdo it. Some of my salads have up to 10 different vegetables, nuts and legumes.
ADDING DELICIOUS FLAVOURS
When it comes to adding flavours to your salad, stay away from the bottled stuff. You can make a far better salad dressing at home. All you need is four simple ingredients – oil, vinegar, sugar and a citrus juice. The types of ingredients are dependent on your palette. But it’s always best to use virgin oil, like olive oil or grapeseed. Or try a subtle and complex vinegar like apple cider or balsamic. Add in sugar that’s a bit more complex, like honey or maple syrup.
As for the citrus juice, I prefer something a little more acidic like lemon or lime because you’d already be adding sugar into your dressing so orange juice might make your dressing too sweet.
The amount of each ingredient varies from person to person as well. However, you can use a basic rule to build your dressing: 1 part oil, one third part vinegar, one sixth part sugar and one sixth part citrus juice. This is a pretty balanced way of ensuring that your salad gets the ideal balance of flavours.
More importantly, learn how to season your salad. Most people don't realise they need to season a salad as they would any other dish. It's a large bowl of vegetables and thus also needs a generous amount of salt and spice. Choosing a great spice is another way to add flavour to your salad. Forget black pepper. Try smoked paprika, cayenne or even mustard powder.
You might still find it a challenge to come up with your version of a great salad. However, these steps will help you on the right track. Don't worry about making it too complex or interesting – start with the things you have on hand and ingredients that you're comfortable with. Just know that there’s no wrong way to make a great salad – unless you decide to pour chilli sauce on lettuce!