Allyson Gofton on the modern salad
Salads have a potted history that began in ancient times when vegetables were simply salted and eaten (salt and salad have the same Latin root word — sal).
Some may say, “we’ve not travelled very far” but in between times there were some colourful, if not erratic, deviations. Medieval salads were a simple melange of leaves and flowers, while 17th century versions consisted of many layers that shared no common attributes and suffered altitude and attitude sickness even back then.
The Victorians introduced serving spoons and salad’s prominence grew. Nouvelle cuisine gave us the warm salad, comprising very little — and in portion sizes meant only for a newt! Come the 80s and 90s, the rise of affordable tourism, coupled with a flourishing food communications industry — television, magazines and books — rocketed the salad from side plate to main meal.
Out went the chiffonade of iceberg, decorated parsimoniously with slices of egg and tomato and drowned in a slurry of condensed milk dressing, and in came Waldorf, Russian, Nicoise and Caesar salads.
Latterly they’ve been joined by tabbouleh, fattoush, noodle, sushi, mixed veg and roasted vegetable along with a growing medley of green leaves, sprouts and sprinkles for enhancement..
Salad ingredients, once cheap, simple and unadorned, are now no longer cheap, simple, nor plain. Today the pre-mixed bagged salad, be it coleslaw, mixed greens, cauliflower pearls or just leaves, have become the obligatory fridge fashion essential for the upwardly mobile, regardless of cost.
I accept that these prepared salads are useful — even I am known to buy the odd bag — but, to be so popular that New World alone checked out 20 million units (bagged or plastic boxed) in the last 12 months simply astounds me. How hard can it be to tear leaves off a lettuce? Can you not shred a cabbage? Do we need more unwarranted packaging?
More importantly, do we believe that if we eat more salad, we’ll be healthier? Statistics don’t support this theory. Too often we kid ourselves: salad will not compensate for the morning-tea coffee treat; yes, you can eat too big a portion; nuts are high in fat, and dressings and mayos include sugar and fat.
Some salads only masquerade as a waist-watcher essential. Add to this is the loss of interest in eating seasonally —salads are now year-round fodder — and a lethargy (cloaked for many as convenience) in the home towards food preparation, all of which suggests that packaged, ready-to go salad sales will only increase in number and, no doubt, in price.
My answer is, sure they are handy and useful when we are busy, but don’t moan about the price if the above two elements relate to you — lettuce in winter, why?
Take the latest salad fashionista: cauliflower pearls. This once winter staple and now this summer’s hot trend is processed into cauliflower pearls — delicious and a great substitute for bulghur wheat or couscous for the gluten intolerant.
At the time of writing an average cauli — about 800g — was selling online at $2.99, while a 450g bag of cauliflower pearls was $4.99. Summer prices for this winter vegetable are yet to appear.
Cut finely across the front, the cauli’s florets will easily cascade into pearl rice-size crumbs, making a crunchy and delicious base for a salad. Five minutes with a knife at the chopping board will save you much, especially where the chic ’n’ savvy cafe or deli-style salads are concerned. Homemade has much going for it.
Toasting the walnuts until golden brown will add a rich flavour to this salad. Should you have walnut oil, use half walnut and olive for a truly delicious dressing. Pomegranates are a luxury, so substitute dried cranberries and, if you can, use handfuls of mint and basil or mint, basil and parsley —herbs make a salad. Get the recipe