Tuesday, August 12, 2014

My Salad Days

I have always relished salads and have been making a variety of salads for ages and ages. The word "salad" comes from the French salade of the same meaning, from the Latin salata (salty), from sal (salt). In English, the word first appeared as "salad" or "sallet" in the 14th century (wiki).

In Karnataka, salads go by the name of ‘Kosambari’ or ‘Gugari’. Elsewhere in India it is often called Kachumber. I am sure there are many more names and avatars in every part of India. We have a plethora of ‘Raitas’ - which in a broad sense may be termed as a ‘salad with loose dressing’. With a slight stretch of the imagination ‘Chaats’ may also come under this classification.

In my salad days (pun intendedJ) I used to make salads for parties, but now it has become an integral part of our daily dinner menu. It is healthy, with lots of freshness to provide the zing factor and above all, it lets you relish each and every ingredient. In addition, it provides all the required fiber, essential vitamins and minerals. It also helps to fill up your stomach – especially when your eyes are bigger than your stomach. There is no better way to keep your weight under check.

I use tomato, cucumber, carrot, onion, capsicum, radish, mushroom and cabbage from the vegetable basket. Varieties of lettuce and rocket leaves make up the greens. One should use fruits to complete the salad. Apple, grapes, raw mango, star fruit, pineapple, black berry, pomegranate, water melon, pear or avocado taste great in a salad. Mint, basil, dill, celery, parsley, coriander or spring onions provide the required flavour to the salad. Never even think of making salad with left over vegetables –that would be sheer blasphemy! Never store a prepared salad overnight and serve – it would have lost all its aforementioned zing. Whatever you use, make sure it is crisp and fresh.

If you are trying to make a full meal out of the salad and would like to incorporate some protein, add shredded and cooked chicken, hardboiled eggs, prawns, ham etc. To get a crunchy feel, add walnuts, almonds or pistachios in small quantities. Cheese is an inescapable part of any salad, especially parmesan, feta and goat cheese; there are many others to suit every palate – paneer and tofu do the job equally well. Olives, garlic, ginger, gherkins and jalapenos add the necessary punch. Salt, pepper, lime juice, vinegar and honey complete the picture. Dry herbs also give subtle overtones to the salad. One can use a number of sprouted lentils too. I often add American corn to throw in a bit of carbs. For a change, you can also use rock salt and chaat masala- why not? Edible flowers are another unusual option – try rose petals for colour and a subtle flavour. Before I windup – booze is a big game changer – both in the cook and in the salad. A bit of wine can add a lot of fizz.
Salads can be served plain or with a dressing or sauce which may be light, moderate or heavy. One may experiment with various dressing combos; olive oil, tomato ketchup, mustard sauce, butter, eggs and cheese along with salt, pepper, honey and vinegar are distinct possibilities. Do not attempt to use anything other than olive oil.

The preparation of salad is all about maintaining the freshness and individual flavors till it is on the table. I use four to six ingredients at any given time. Keep it simple - I recently served pomegranate seeds on rocket leaves with a hint of salt and pepper, lime and olive oil. For the dressing I used liberal amounts of feta cheese. I also like Greek salad with Tzatzki. Adding one fruit will go a long way to improve the basic taste of the salad. Garnishing should be sparingly used as it has the tendency to overpower the taste of vegetables. Similarly dressing should be used in moderation or kept on the side.

Wash all the vegetables well, especially the leafy ones and dry them thoroughly before using. (Use a salad spinner)  Lettuce should be absolutely dry to give the correct texture. Cut the veggies and fruits into cubes, rings, ellipses or julienne or shred them to a comfortable size. Tear the leaves and let them remain whole if possible. 

Salad as a rule should be served fresh, meaning – cut, garnish, dress, toss and serve. If it is not possible to serve the salad immediately, for instance during parties- cut the vegetable except greens, lettuce and store it in the fridge and add the G & D just prior to serving. If you don’t, the leaves wilt, mint and basil become dark and look unpalatable.

Raitas are fresh vegetables finely cut or shredded and mixed with thick curd. Coriander, green chili, and grated coconut are used for garnishing. Whereas cucumber and tomato are used raw, cut onions, capsicum, grated carrot, beetroot and radish are half cooked. Aloo raita is delicious.  At times garnishing with red chili, curry leaves, mustard and cumin is also done. Another great option is to grind mustard, green chillies and coriander leaves, add curd and put the usual raita veggies in.

Another very important aspect of any salad is its presentation. Food is all about one third presentation, one third taste and of course one third hunger. Try to make it into a beautifully designed work-of-art on a plate, full of bright colours, different textures and hidden delights. Use the net for more information but create your own salad to suit your taste, using what is easily available in the market. There are no boundaries in choosing the ingredients – be creative. Do not be afraid to experiment.

I often use pesto sauce on the side, mustard sauce with cheese and butter, olive oil with lime and honey, hung curd with dill, garlic Tzatzki etc. You require -  honey, sugar, vinegar, red wine, olive oil, curd, butter, cheese, cream, eggs, lime, Worchester sauce, Tabasco and lots of courage and imagination to churn out the best sauces.

There are no rules in the making of salads– make what you like, but become a “Saladarian” today.

Here’s a PJ for you:

Q: What is a Honeymoon Salad? A: Lettuce alone, with no dressing J


  1. My son in law at US is a great salad maker. I sent this post to him so that i get a mix of your talent and his, when i visit him next!! Your soup post is also equally tongue watering!

    C S Chandramouli

    1. Thank you. Hope you will have great soups and salads with your family in US of A