When most people think of salad, they think of bland piles of lettuce and finely grated carrots that are drenched in heavy sauces or topped with weird things like ultra-sweet dried fruit or some chef’s interpretation of Caesar dressing. This usually puts people off of salad, and it gets a bad reputation for being a health-food for rabbits. However, salad really is just a term used for fresh ingredients mixed together to create a clean and light combination of flavors.
Of course, 99% of the salads out there will involve some sort of vegetable as the base and then some kind of ingredient that will give the salad its trademark bite or texture. Despite many people knowing the basics of salad building, their downfall is usually apparent in the very last stage of salad prep: the dressing. I cannot believe how many people still opt for canned and bottled dressings over fresh vinaigrettes. In using a heavy dressing that is loaded with tons of chemicals and processed bits ‘n pieces, the original flavor of the salad ingredients gets masked. You’ll end up with a bunch of drowned veg that isn’t appetizing in the least. The best dressings come from the Italians (not Wishbone): olive oil, a bit of salt, and a bit of pepper. You’ll notice that many of the freshest and best salads don’t come with a pile of “other things” on top.
My choice chef-mentor, Gordon Ramsay, puts it quite well:
When making up your own salad, think of colour, taste and texture, and do taste the ingredients as you go along to get the right balance for the dish. Since no cooking is involved and the ingredients are allowed to speak for themselves, it is imperative that only the freshest and best quality produce be used. This principle also applies to what you use to dress the salad. Experiment with different oils, and use good-quality, flavourful salts such as Maldon sea salt or French fleur de sel. Nowadays smoked sea salt is becoming widely stocked by supermarkets, and it is a good option if you want to add another dimension to a dish.
Salads are meant to be a plate of creativity. Try different ingredients from your local markets to build a unique combination of colors and flavors that you can call your own. If you need some inspiration, just check out Chef Ramsay’s own ideas in The Times.