Since starting the Slow Carb Diet (and losing 7 kilos so far, if you’re asking!), I have rediscovered a true love of the great big salad. After adding the slow carb recipes section on the site we have had quite a few people find us when searching for inspirational salad recipes, so I thought it might be worth jotting down a few ideas, if your limp lettuce needs a lift!
Salad should be relatively simple. But, there are hundreds of ingredients that can be included, and many ways to add a touch more taste to a simple green leafy dish.
Since I’m still enjoying a lower carb life-style I won’t be including potato salads, rich dressings, or pasta in any of my daily salads. But even if you are, the following ideas will hopefully help you enjoy a healthy salad a little more often.
In part 1 of our look at great salad recipes, I’m concentrating on ways to add lots of flavor, so its all about the little extra touches, and creating the perfect salad dressing. Part 2 looks at the best salad ingredients on which to throw all this lovely flavor!
The key to a great tasting salad is a great tasting salad dressing. And, no I am not talking about store bought, jars of salad creams or expensive artisan pre-made dressings. You need just 3 things; acidity, smooth mellow oil, and flavor.
- Acidity is provided by either vinegar or citrus (or a mixture of both). Ditch the malt vinegars in favor of cider vinegar, sherry or wine vinegars. A touch of balsamic can be a nice addition, but don’t overdo it as again the taste is strong (and a little too sweet if not off-set by some wine vinegar too. Lemon juice is my fall-back choice if feeling like some citrus notes in my salad, but don’t forget limes, and even a little orange juice can work well.
- Salad oil should have some oomph. For us, that usually means a good quality extra virgin olive oil. I might cook with the cheaper olive oils, but salad always gets more special attention, and a few drops of something fabulous tasting. Sesame oil (added in minuscule portions) can add an Oriental flavor which is nice for a change. Other nut oils (Walnut oil is a particular favorite) are good, but pricey and best mixed with a more bland (and cheaper) oil such as groundnut or grape-seed oil.
- Flavor comes most often from salt. I am not a huge fan of sprinkling salt into all my home cooking, but when it comes to salads even I know that it really can cause a huge improvement, bringing out the flavors of all those other crunchy ingredients. Stick to flaky sea salt if you can as it crumbles beautifully adding a little texture along with its salty pockets hidden in the mix. There are more ways to add flavor to your salad detailed below.
Creating the perfect salad dressing is up to you. I tend to use a ratio of 2 parts oil to 1 part white wine vinegar, plus a pinch of flaky sea salt. But some ingredients will be more salty, or oily, or you might just fancy a change. Either whisk the ingredients together with a fork, in a bowl, or else shake them up together in a jam-jar (this method is good if you want to make a larger batch to store in the refrigerator for a few days.
And, if you can source eggs who’s quality you trust, egg yolks make the very best salad dressings of all, whisked with oil and garlic to produce mayonnaise and alioli that tastes nothing like the stuff in even the very best jars!
Adding Flavor to Salads
Now, as much as I enjoy a simple salad including olive oil, wine vinegar, salt, lettuce, scallions and tomatoes (as my mother always made), I do like to pep things up a bit much of the time. The following are key ingredients that add tons of flavor to even a simple dish of mixed leaves. Remember to alter the added salt if you’re picking one of the saltier ones though!
- Anchovies – I know these are not loved by everyone, but if you buy good quality tins or jars of those Spanish olive oil soaked anchovy fillets and simply mash them up with the dressing, I promise you will be converted. There is not a hint of fishiness, just a smooth savoury (and very salty) addition.
- Preserved Lemons - again many folks won’t particularly enjoy eating these from the jar like I do, but finely chopped preserved lemon skin (flesh discarded) add a citrus depth and salty hit to any leafy plate. Best of all, they are super easy to make at home.
- Garlic - now I do love garlic, and use it with pretty wild abandon in My Shiny Kitchen, but raw in salads I do try to show a little restraint (and I think you should too!). So either mince very finely and mix into the dressing, or simply rub the cut end of half a garlic clove around the sides of the salad bowl you are using.
- Cheese - I love a few cubes of crumbled feta cheese to provide the saltiness in a home-made salad, simply stirred throughout. But a finely grated portion of strong hard cheese such as Grana Padano or Parmesan are great mixed into the dressing itself.
- Bacon bits & pancetta - these are great heated in a skillet slowly to release some excess fat, and cooked till crispy. I usually cook the rashers whole and then simply crumble into the salad by hand, but you could simply snip them into small bits first.
- Fresh Herbs - torn basil leaves, thyme and marjoram will add a nice herby hit. Arugula adds a peppery depth when used in large quantities (or even as the entire salad base).
- Dried Herbs – I think you do need to be a little more careful with dried (or fresh woody herbs) as they can add an odd texture to salad. My one exception is dried oregano which I find perfect alongside feta in salads.
- Spices – depending on what the salad is likely to accompany you might find some more imaginative spices a good idea. Alongside curries, some cumin seeds, or mustard seeds; for cabbage based salads add fennel seeds.
- Chilies – fresh chilies sliced finely are great soaked in vinegar for 10 minutes if you want to add some heat more evenly throughout the finished dish. Or for a more random fiery note simply sprinkle in some killer hot red chili flakes and take your chances!
- Mustard – no not that alien hot-dog mustard in a squeezy jar, but real mustard made in Europe! Whole-grain French mustards can be added in reasonable quantities (but reduce the acidity of the dressing to balance their vinegar content), and traditional English mustard should be used with caution. It’s searing heat can be over-powering, but a teaspoon or so mixed onto a few table-spoons of salad dressing should give you a good flavor.
- Wasabi & Horseradish Sauce - both are intense in the extreme, so do use with caution! For a hint of heat, without the eye-watering I often mix a teaspoon of either wasabi or horseradish into a few table-spoons of vinegar and stir through. Personally I only use such strong flavors in Cabbage based concoctions that can really stand up to the heat.
As you can see you can really let your imagination run riot, and add some pretty strong flavors to a simple bed of salad leaves. The beauty of this approach is that you don’t become bored with eating salads daily, since even if the basic ingredients are similar (or the same), the flavor of each is very different.
Next up I’ll be having a look at Salad Recipes – The Key Ingredients. It shouldn’t just be an iceberg lettuce in your salad tray, so hopefully my ideas will help you add some real sparkle to your daily greens!