The Journey of a Salads
First, a quick history lesson on how salads came to be.
It’s quite intriguing that the food history of western cuisine originates out of Rome and Greece.
It could have been the presence of royalty, the feasts and indulgences that ensued which set the precedent for what went on to become staples in these countries' cuisines.
Salad as a component of a meal had its roots firmly set in European food where one of the courses were greens and raw vegetables mixed with a dressing to elevate flavor and make the vegetables more palatable.
As cuisines evolved, so did this meal course, with additions like cold cuts, fruit, nuts, seeds and even pasta, the salad began to gain popularity.
Basic salads were categorised into bound, tossed, composed, vegetable and fruit, and a category that could be a combination of all these.
Over a period of time, the concept of salad moved further West and became more indulgent.
It is presumed that America introduced mayonnaise into salads, an emulsified sauce with origins in France but a lot of food historians have traced it to Spain, yet the instance of usage is most apparent in American cuisine.
Whether it was this instance or the fact that American food was easily marketable and very popular as a culture, salads went on to show up in menus across the world.
This shift in meal courses received mixed reviews, from being considered a diet food to being an essential in a course meal, the salad was everywhere.
After the initial high of mayonnaise-based salads like Russian Salad, Potato Salad and even Caesar Salad in some cases, every salad counter and menu boasted about these supposed classics.
Classics that were far removed from their original character as leafy greens, moistened with dressing, a break between courses and a means to consume vegetables to balance large cuts of meat.
Salads were now heavy, creamy, loaded and still just a course of a larger menu.
As trends move, so did salads, from being dishes that could easily qualify as meals, they went on to become a great way to include roughage in a meal, probably the original plan for this course anyway.
Making Salads Palatable and Healthy
With the advent of conscious eating and sustainable food, more and more questions started arising about the efficacy of salad as a healthy means of nutrition.
But is it too much to expect that salads could also be indulgent and tasty along with being healthy?
The answer was no, it was a perfectly balanced expectation, and yes salads could easily be palatable and healthy as well as stand in for at least one meal of the day depending upon preference of ingredients and preparation of the final dish.
The easiest switch to make from emulsified dressings was to choose a quality oil that could be eaten raw.
The choices started from extra virgin olive oil to walnut, avocado and toasted sesame oil which was used extensively in Asian dishes.
As a chef, I would expect a perfect salad to have the following components:
Seasonal leafy greens
A seasonal vegetable
A seasonal fruit
A type of cheese that pairs with the other elements selected
Nuts and seeds
A dressing that would complement these ingredients and bring the whole dish together.
The idea is to have textured mouth feel and a combination of soft, firm and crunchy, which aids in satiation and provides a wholesome meal experience from something as simple as a salad.
If you add pita chips, like there is in a Mediterranean Fattoush salad, you get carbohydrates as well, alternatively, to maintain the healthy stance of the salad, use whole-grain pita chips that are double baked for crispiness.
Dressing that is neutral can be multi-purpose as well, like a basic vinaigrette, it can be made fresh, bottled in a clean, dry, glass jar, refrigerated and used over a week.
All you have to do is change the ingredients of the salad and you have a whole new dish every time.
Add lean meats like leftover grilled chicken or fish, poached prawns or fresh cottage cheese for lean protein and enjoy a salad as often as you like.
Fresh herbs add an excellent flavor profile and are a treasure trove of vitamins and minerals as well.
So, whether you make your own salads or are flummoxed by what to order when you eat out, ask for an oil based dressing, preferably one that doesn’t use a seed oil and definitely not refined oil and you’re in for a healthy, wholesome treat.
Spruced up Greek Salad on the Go!
Serves: 2; Time: 20 mins
2 tomatoes, cubed
1 red onion, thinly sliced
1 cucumber, sliced
1 capsicum, sliced
1/3 cup sweetcorn kernels
1/3 cup black and green olives, pitted and sliced
1 small green apple or pear, cubed
2 tbsp chopped mint leaves
2 tbsp chopped coriander leaves
4-6 wholegrain pita chips, broken into halves
2-3 tbsp toasted walnut bits
3 tbsp crumbled feta cheese
1.5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 tbsp fresh orange juice
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp lemon juice or white wine vinegar
2 tbsp honey
1 tsp oregano
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
This is your salad and there are no rules, chop the vegetables however you wish and assemble in the order of preference.
Layer the salad, section it or gently toss it, this is your salad.
For the dressing, add all the ingredients in a clean jar with a lid and shake shake shake to mix.
This dressing is ideal for this amount of salad ingredients, you can double or triple the recipe to make a bigger batch of dressing to refrigerate for the week.
(Parul Pratap is a professional chef with 25 years of experience. She is the Executive Chef at Music & Mountains, and passionate about preserving recipes, collecting indigenous ingredients and traveling to eat new cuisines.)