Salad and I have not always got along. From time to time we have had our differences - mostly down to my preference for things that are meaty/cheesy/fried.
But, you know, with age comes some sort of wisdom, maybe. Some sort of acceptance. Over time we realise that salad never meant us any harm, or offence. Salad just wanted to play with the others, nicely. Also, from time to time, salad must accept that it just hasn't, actually, been very good to me.
Remember what salads used to always be? Shredded lettuce, grated carrot, grated cheese, "flower-cut" tomato and egg halves, canned crushed pineapple, a big old parsley sprig. And a big blob of reduced cream mayo. Actually, sometimes I get nostalgic for this particular old-time salad staple, and I make it (and then I don't fancy eating it again for a while).
But then, sometime, I had a revelation; salads didn't have to be just lettuce and tomato based. Salads could be, actually, anything. You could make an Asian salad, with coriander and mint. You could make a salad of roasted veges, with a tangy soy and sesame dressing. Hell, you could even make a salad out of meat!
And with the range of fruits and vegetables, as well as fresh herbs and nuts, seeds and cheeses - well, the sky was the limit. I have waxed lyrical in the past about the significance that the first two Yotam Ottolenghi cookbooks have had on the way I cook and eat. I reckon they were responsible for changing the way I thought about combining flavours and ingredients.
And so, on Saturday evening I wanted to make a salad to have with a roast chicken (I shared my method for doing that here). I assembled the ingredients I needed in the daytime based on what I saw that looked good - limes, iceberg lettuce, mint - and a pomegranate.
Pomegranates are a very "Ottolenghi" ingredient. They are sweet and bright and fresh tasting, with juice-filled sac-like seeds. They also have the advantage of looking exquisite scattered over grilled or roasted meat, or veges - or, indeed, over a salad; like bright red, edible jewels. There is a good trick that somebody taught me in removing the seeds from a pomegranate - you cut the fruit in half, then give the upended pomegranate half a whack with the flat of a knife blade or a rolling pin, catching the seeds and juice in a waiting bowl - easy!
So, here's what I assembled to make my "most delicious salad", rather after the fashion of an Ottolenghi sala:
- An iceberg lettuce, cut into chunks.
- Half a pomegranate.
- A handful of mint leaves.
- A handful of chopped, toasted almonds.
- Half a block of good feta (such as Zany Zeus), crumbled.
- A couple of limes, zested, one juiced, one with the flesh chopped.
- A good glug of olive oil.
- A sprinkle of sumac.
Place the chopped chunks of iceberg in a bowl. Layer up the other ingredients - crumbled feta, mint leaves, some of the pomegranate seeds and juice, lime flesh and juice and almonds - then repeat. Finish with more mint leaves and zest, the olive oil, and the sumac.
Easy as - and a great salad that doesn't even require an extra dressing as the combined juices of the lime and pomegranate mingle with the olive oil and feta to dress the lettuce chunks. It tastes really good with chicken or other roasted meat, and with crusty bread. It is fresh, bright, and vibrant, and has a great mixture of textures and fresh flavours - which I reckon is the key to a satisfying salad.
It is so delicious, I am considering never bothering with the old staple salads again. And whoever said "you can't make friends with salad" (perhaps, again, it was Homer Simpson) - might actually have been wrong.
What is your favourite salad combo? Care to share it here? Gonna give my "most delicious salad" a bash?
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