Gourmet Files Vasundhara Chauhan

Salad days

Just a lot of colour-loaded nutrition.  

A Recipe for Salad

To make this condiment your poet begs

The pounded yellow of two hard-boil’d eggs;

Two boiled potatoes, passed through kitchen-sieve,

Smoothness and softness to the salad give;

Let onion atoms lurk within the bowl,

And, half suspected, animate the whole.

Of mordant mustard add but a single spoon,

Distrust the condiment that bites too soon;

But deem it not, thou man of herbs, a fault,

To add a double quantity of salt;

Four times the spoon with oil of

Lucca crown,

And twice with vinegar procur’d from town;

And lastly o’er the flavor’d compound toss

A magic soupçon of anchovy sauce.

Oh, green and glorious! Oh herbaceous treat!

’Twould tempt the dying anchorite to eat;

Back to the world he’d turn his fleeting soul,

And plunge his fingers in the salad-bowl!

Serenely full, the epicure would say,

“Fate cannot harm me, I have dined today.”

Sydney Smith (1771–1845)

Sometimes one wants to eat salad — fresh, colourful, crisp, crunchy, chilled. Especially after days of overdosing on greasy wedding dinners with a preponderance of carbs and oily gravy. But sometimes, when it’s drizzling, grey and miserable or in the beastly Delhi winter, the thought of touching something cold and wet is just not bearable.

The trouble is that is precisely when the best greens appear. Even my minuscule garden is abundant in dark green spinach and red and green lettuce that I, having longed and planned for, must now consume. Three small red radishes appeared and were eaten.

In an ideal world, there would be a sunny garden and magically appearing pre-lunch trays of desi salaad: freshly pulled white radishes and red carrots washed under the garden tap. That kind of salad is welcome in winter. And at dinner one could have what is technically a ‘salad’ but is basically boiled whole new potatoes beefed up with slivers of grilled chicken, quartered hardboiled eggs, anchovies, curls of Parmesan cheese, crisp garlicky croutons with a token inclusion of a few leaves and cherry tomatoes… Or a warm wilted spinach salad with a bacon dressing.

Now this kind of thing works in winter and is still a salad because the term is derived from Latin sal, salt, and means ‘salted things’ such as the raw vegetables that were eaten in classical times with salt, oil or vinegar. There are classic salads that transcend the boring. Salads like Caesar, which traditionally comprises romaine lettuce, garlic, olive oil, croutons, Parmesan cheese and Worcestershire sauce — with or without anchovies; Russian — boiled vegetables and mayonnaise that we’ve grown up with in India; Waldorf — apple, celery, walnuts and mayonnaise; and salade niçoise, the treasure chest combination of colour, texture and taste of lettuce, tomatoes, French beans, anchovies, tuna, olives and hard-boiled eggs dressed in vinaigrette.

I keep a standard dressing in a glass jar in the refrigerator and add, at the last minute, garlic, ginger, mustard or herbs. The base is 1/3 cup vinegar or lemon juice, 2/3 cup olive oil, 11/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper, 1 tsp sugar, 1 clove garlic; all combined in a jar with a tight-fitting lid and shaken vigorously to blend.

For a change, though, if I’m forced to think beyond the usual, there are a couple of favourites. The only constants I keep in mind are that the vegetables should be unblemished, of the best quality; nuts and seasonal fruit add a welcome change of texture; and leaves should be washed thoroughly, immersed in chilled water and dried just before dressing and serving. The moment salt touches foods it draws the moisture out. So vegetables lose their ‘fullness’ and become limp. And the juices that the salt has extracted settle at the bottom of the salad bowl. The easiest thing to do is to not ‘dress’ the salad until just before serving, and, to prevent bitterness, to tear leaves with one’s fingers into bite-sized pieces, not cut them with a knife.

vasundharachauhan9@gmail.com

SPINACH & STRAWBERRY SALAD

Serves 6

21/2 tbsp vinegar

Salt

Pepper

3 tbsp olive oil

500g baby spinach (8 cups)

250g strawberries, cut lengthwise into thick slices (11/2 cups)

1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and cooled

Whisk together vinegar, salt and pepper in a small bowl, then add oil in a slow stream, whisking well. Put spinach, strawberries, and pecans in a large bowl and toss with just enough vinaigrette to lightly coat.

COLD POTATO SALAD

Serves 6

6 large potatoes

1 small bunch of dill

1/2 cup French dressing

1/2 tsp dry mustard

1/4 cup minced onion

2 red apples, unpeeled but cored and diced

1 cup diced celery

6 hard-boiled eggs, chopped

4 tablespoons chopped parsley

11/2 cups mayonnaise

1/2 cup sour cream

Salt

Pepper

Cook the potatoes in their skins with the dill; peel and dice them and marinate them while still hot in the French dressing. Add the onion and let stand until cold — at least an hour — while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. Combine potato-onion mixture with remaining ingredients, including mayonnaise blended with sour cream. Season with salt and pepper to taste.


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Printable version | Oct 23, 2021 7:30:04 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/Vasundhara_Chauhan/salad-days/article6868399.ece

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