I am a huge fan of salads. I judge a restaurant or food establishment based on their presentation and freshness of their salads – if a restaurant puts that much care and attention into the most simple of their dishes, then you know that their more complicated dishes will surely be a win. That or clearly they have a genius in the cold kitchen. You generally can’t go to wrong with a salad if you keep the balance of flavours right and follow these simple rules:
*Always use fresh ingredients. If you have some dodgy looking veg, use it in stews, where it is okay for them to be limp and soggy. Salads need to be crisp and fresh.
*Wash your ingredients well. Spinach and fresh lettuce are nefariously known to have sand and grit hidden in their leaves. Wash vegetables really well to make sure that they’re dirt-free . You WILL notice the difference.
*Don’t over-complicate with too many flavours. Choose a theme, i.e. Chinese style, Thai flavours, or Greek etc. and stick to those type of flavours. A “Greek influenced Chinese salad with a Malaysian style barbecue blue cheese dressing” is a bit like experiencing culture shock on a food scale.
*Keep a balance of textures. A good salad will have crisp veg, something with a crispy texture or an intense crunch, and then softer, easily chewable items. You don’t want a salad that has too many crunchy textures, as it will feel like you are chomping on gravel.
*If in doubt keep most of the ingredients bland. Good salads work because they don’t all have intense-flavoured ingredients. Lettuce, cucumber and tomatoes are generally soft flavours, and are enhanced by one or two intense flavours, such as a spicy meat or vegetable, and a flavourful dressing.
*Don’t experiment on guests. Rather save that for the comfort of your own home. If you are entertaining, use a recipe that you have used before that has been successful.
*Serve the dressing last. Most dressings contain an acid and an oil. The acid will firm up the salad ingredients, and start to break them down, and the oil will make them floppy. Dress your salad just before serving.
120g Salad leaves
Half a cucumber
100g baby tomatoes
2 rounds of feta, cubed
8 strawberries, quartered
5 radishes, finely sliced
Wash the salad leaves and arrange on a plate or in a bowl. Halve the cucumber, and arrange on top of the salad leaves. Scatter the washed baby tomatoes over the salad. Cube the feta, and quarter the strawberries, and arrange on the salad. Finely slice the radishes and layer on top. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic glaze. Grind with a generous amount of black pepper and serve immediately.
For the chicken:
1t olive oil 250-300g
(2) chicken breasts, de-skinned and deboned
2T apricot jam
2T teriyaki or soy sauce
1T sesame oil
40g (12) Turkish apricots
For the salad:
100g salad leaves
1/4 cucumber, sliced
100g baby tomatoes, washed and halved
1/4 red onion, sliced
40g toasted almond flakes
For the dressing:
25ml olive oil
20ml lemon juice
2t wholegrain or plain Dijon mustard
Wash and cut the salad ingredients accordingly. Place on two separate plates and refrigerate.
Make the dressing: Mix the olive oil and lemon juice together. Whisk in the honey and mustard. Continue whisking until it forms a smooth, slightly thick dressing. Taste and adjust according to your palate – I like my dressings to be acidic and not too sweet. Set aside.
Make the chicken: Chop the chicken into bite-sized pieces and set aside. Heat a saucepan on the stove and add the olive oil. When the pan is hot add the chicken. Stir-fry until beginning to brown, about three minutes, and then add the sliced apricots. Cook for a further two minutes and then add the apricot jam, the teriyaki or soy sauce, and the sesame oil. Cook until the sauce begins to bubble, about one more minute. Check that the chicken is cooked all the way through, and has no pink shades in the centre.
Spoon the cooked chicken and apricots over the prepared salad ingredients and sprinkle with the toasted almonds. Drizzle over the dressing and serve.
View the recipe for roasted beetroot, butternut, feta and bacon salad with toasted pumpkin seeds on p32 of Radiant’s Jan/Feb issue.