A few years back I gave a class on salad making to a group of women keen on healthy eating. As I set about picking the recipes for the class, I set thinking what constitutes a perfect salad for me. For I have rarely turned to recipes when making a salad. I just find the combinations that work.
And how do you find those combinations, my class asked. And here's my answer, my philosophy of salad making.
I think of a salad as four distinct constituents.
1. First comes the base. The lettuce of a green salad, the macroni in a pasta salad, bread in panzanella - these are the ingredients that define what the salad is.
2. Next is what I call fillers. These are ingredients (maybe one, but usually 2-3) that complement the base. And I dont just mean complement here in taste. Think looks, think color, think what will make your salad beautiful. What I do is find flavors that work together, and yet have colors that constrast.
3. The third item on my list is what I can only describe as flavor bursts. This is something that really packs a punch, even when used in really small quantities. I am talking about herbs, nuts, a drizzle of chesse. The possibilities are endless. Just remember we are looking for a conflicting flavor here - the bigger the flavor shock, the better for our salad.
4. Finally comes the dressing. The debate between mayonnaise lovers and vinaigrette lovers will go on until eternity, so go ahead and pick what works best for you.
Now that we are done with this mini lecture on salad making, lets make a salad that turns all this thinking on its head. A confused, thoroughly mixed-up (for who's to say what's base and what's filler here) yet imminently likeable salad. Let's make the classic greek salad.
First collect all ingredients. Wash and pat dry romaine lettuce leaves. If you have largish leaves, tear them (never take a knife to lettuce, but you know that already!). Keep small leaves as is.
Next peel and chop a cucumber in cubes. Also chop a scallion. Wash some cherry tomatoes, take some olives out of that can and cube some feta. For color, use bright red tomatoes and black olives. I went for flavor instead and picked yellow cherry tomatoes and green olives. Plonk everything into a salad bowl and then make your dressing.
Mix 1 tbsp olive oil and 1/2 tbsp white wine vinegar with as much salt and pepper as you like, pour over your salad and toss to finish.