Radish, rocket, and the art of the summer salad
Date: 09-08-2018 published by Nick Baines
We’re still in the thralls of summer menus and with the current onslaught of fresh produce there’s a great deal to play with. However, while light fresh dishes win out at this time of year, there are often a lot of missed opportunities for decent salads on the menu, which can also deliver a great margin.
We’ve got a reputation in the UK for being very good at knocking up lacklustre salads and that’s certainly not something we should be proud of. The notorious bowl of iceberg lettuce, a few cherry tomatoes and some sliced cucumber is never a good idea even as a token garnish. It takes a lot of Thousand Island dressing to make that taste inspiring.
But it’s not all as sad as that lousy barbecue side salad. Thanks to places like the Ethicurean near Bath, not to mention the diverse spread of delis, cafes and restaurants that bear the Ottolenghi name, the high street has made huge steps to make salads exciting. Middle Eastern influences are strong in this arena, and south east Asian varieties laced with rice noodles, lime juice and fragrant Thai herbs create some of the most refreshing summer options around.
As a variety of radishes are now in their prime, that spicy peppery note can be brought in to play an important role. However, when things like rocket are included, it can be a good idea to temper radishes heat and use them primarily for texture and colour. Marinating them in citrus juices not only softens their kick, but can bring in a little of that zippy freshness.
The key to getting salads working for you often lies in making them more robust. This is arguably what makes a Caesar salad so popular – the promise of finishing your bowl and actually feeling full. Today, that option isn’t so clean cut as we wade through a quagmire of various diet choices, not to mention the climatic rise of veganism.
In California, places like Gjelina routinely knock out salads that bring charred fruit into play. While fruit incorporated into your salad is still sometimes an uphill struggle in the UK, the nature of its inclusion makes perfect sense. Just like a successful cocktail from the bar, a plate should aim to satiate each note of taste; salty, sour, bitter, and sweet (umami is arguably less important in a summer salad). The sweetness is often what’s missing and by laying fresh cut peaches, nectarines or plums onto a hot plate, the natural sugars caramelise. Even strawberries have a role to play here and the burnt, jammified sweet fruits can cut through the tangy, sharpness in a subtle, but very satisfying way.
By this point, you may be on the hunt for some textural contrast to your soft fruit, which is where toasted nuts come in. Macadamia nuts have a versatile flavour profile which makes them ideal alongside sweet summer fruits, while the walnut obviously makes a classic combo with thinly sliced apple.
After such a glorious summer, we have enjoyed a rich bounty of fresh seasonal produce. Experimenting can help to make a good salad great, and may even help you achieve attractive margins at the same time.
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