The wonderful thing about making a salad is that it’s a relaxed, stress-free way of cooking, with endless possibilities for customization. However, to remove some of the guesswork that comes with building a layered, hearty salad, I’ve provided this loose template for you to follow. By keeping the following steps in mind, you’ll not only acquire the skills for building the “ultimate salad,” you’ll gain the confidence youĺl need to experiment and get creative.
Here is how to start:
1. Pick your leading vegetables
What’s lingering in your fridge that needs using up? What’s cheap, in season and abundant in the shops and markets at the moment?
Think about how you’re going to use your principal vegetable:
- Raw and shaved with a speed peeler to give it delicacy and shape?
- Roasted in a hot oven until intensely sweet and caramelized?
- Steamed or blanched, keeping it super-fresh and vibrant?
- Griddled or charred, imparting a deep, rich smokiness?
Then give some thought to your additional vegetables and herbs: how can you chop or prepare them differently? Could you tear in whole herbs so that they take on the role of a salad leaf, or perhaps finely shred them, distributing their fragrance to lift the other ingredients?
Pay attention to building contrast in color and texture here. Consider whether a few different-colored vegetables would make the dish look extraordinarily inviting. If your leading vegetable is fluffy sweet potato, you could throw in some crunchy greens like sugar snap peas rather than steamed carrots, which offers a similar vibe to the potato.
2. A filling base
Next, consider what’s going to be the hearty, filling portion of the meal which keeps you happy and satisfied.
Whatever base you pick here will help guide which flavor direction the salad goes in. Noodles call for a hot and sour soy-based dressing, whereas a grain like couscous is better suited to rich, harissa flavors, some freshly chopped parsley and a handful of dried fruit.
3. Some interesting contrast
Throw in something unexpected here: a tangy pickle, a bitter leaf, a salty aged cheese, or a surprising pop of sweetness from a torn Medjool date. It’s these original touches that keep every forkful unique.
4. Crunch and added texture
Some crushed seeds, a handful of croutons, a scattering of toasted nuts – these are all quick, easy ways to elevate your salad into a complete, satisfying meal. Have a play with toasting whole spices to awaken their aromas; it’s a brilliant way to add instant depth and interest.
5. A memorable dressing to bring it all together
Sometimes it’s just the simplest drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, pinch of sea salt and squeeze of lemon that pulls beautiful ingredients together. At other times, a vibrant mix of chili, fish sauce, and lime juice is what’s needed to elevate a dish.
The key with dressing is to taste regularly. Keep stirring, tweaking and tasting until you’re happy with the balance of flavors, and then toss it through the dish and taste again. It’s these small details that will transform a good meal into an exceptional one.
Now that you’ve learned the basics, it’s time to put your salad building skills to the test. Start out with the following salad recipe:
Excerpted with permission from Salad Feasts by Jessica Elliott Dennison, published by Hardie Grant Books July 2018.