In looking back at the last few recipes I’ve left you with (pasta! polenta! caaaaake!!!), you might start to think it’s been a debaucherous carb-fest 24/7 over here. It is sometimes, but not always. Like most people, we eat salads from time to time too. Even sans croutons! Imagine!
I think it’s safe to say that knowing how to assemble a good salad – or better yet, and handful of good salads – is an essential part of the home cook’s repertoire. That said, the salads most of us toss together are made without a recipe (as they probably should be), which is why I hesitate to call these ones “recipes”. Think of them more like sources of inspiration you can call upon when you find yourself stuck in a salad rut (mixed greens, olive oil, vinegar, repeat) and you’re in need of something with a little more oumf.
With winter not far behind us (lest we forget that almost exactly one week ago, a flurry of snowflakes blew through Montreal), I still haven’t entered wispy, summery salad-making mode. The salads I’ve been making lately aren’t decked out in frilly sprouts or edible flowers. At least not yet. Right now, I’m still making salads with a bit of brawn, ones that can sustain me through the afternoon without the need to reach for a bag of chips from the vending machine at 3pm. Come to think of it, these salads – real sustenance salads – are good in any season. My standby trio of ingredients includes lentils (Puy are great in salads), toasted grains and/or some vegetable that’s been roasted or tossed in raw. Every once and a while, some flaked tuna might make an appearance; sometimes there’s a little radish or arugula to lighten things up. But ultimately the bones are the same – legume (lentils, beans, chickpeas), grain (farro, quinoa, couscous, brown rice), veg (whatever is in the fridge), the whole thing tossed with an improvised vinaigrette, and wham, bam, thank you M’am, you’ve got yourself a capital-S Salad.
Below you’ll find two of my new favourites. They’re a couple of good ones to have in your back pocket for quick lunches and (soon! very soon!) picnics:
Salad #1 – brought to you by the 5lb bag of carrots and 3lb bag of beets I’ve been slowly chipping away at over the last couple of weeks. Buying produce in bulk, on sale, always seems like a good idea until it doesn’t. After a week of carrot cake and carrot curry and carrot slaw, you start running out of ideas. And then you enter into dicey territory – should I pickle the rest? Can I make a facial mask with carrots? Can I dye teatowels in beet juice? Maybe my neighbours want beets? To everyone’s benefit, this salad came along instead, helping to make a nice dent in the stockpile. Everything goes in raw – carrot, beet, citrus, herbs – then you toast some pumpkin seeds in tamari and oil and throw those on top for an earthy, salty crunch, along with a sweet and sour dressing. It’s an electric pink bowl of crunchy vegetables and juicy fruit segments, closely resembling a large bowl of confetti. If this salad were a party, it’d be the one where all the fun people were invited and there was an open bar.
Salad #2 – this one is more or less an Ottolenghi-inspired concoction: lots of crispy raw fennel, yellow beets and cucumber are combined with tender mixed greens (frisée, raddichio, watercress, mint) and topped with parsley-studded Puy lentils, pistachios and a drizzle of tahini vinaigrette. That dressing – as simple as it is – is a revelation. You’ll want to put it on everything.
Before you get started, remember that you can riff on these recipes as much as you like. Salads are extremely forgiving; there’s always a little wiggle room. Don’t have an orange? Use a grapefruit. Don’t have apple cider vinegar? Swap it for some white or red wine vinegar. Make use of whatever’s already in your fridge, pantry and garden. Salads are all about colour and contrast, texture and depth of flavour. Find a balance between those things and, man, you’re in business.
Ruby Red Beet and Carrot Salad with Toasted Pumpkin Seeds (adapted from The Food Federation) – serves 4-6 as a side
- 2 carrots, grated
- 1 beetroot, grated
- ½ red onion, thinly sliced
- 1 orange (or grapefruit), segmented
- a small bunch of coriander or flat leaf parsley(or a combination)
- 1 tsp oil
- 1 tsp tamari (or soy sauce)
- ½ cup pumpkin seeds
For the dressing:
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 1 tsp honey
- 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 1 tsp wholegrain mustard
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
1) Combine all the dressing ingredients in a bowl and set aside.
2) Heat a frying pan over a medium heat. Toss the seeds with the oil and tamari and toast in the hot pan. Toss frequently until they are crispy and a dark brown colour. (nuts and seeds burn quickly, so keep an eye on them while they toast)
3) Place all the salad ingredients in a large bowl. Add the seeds and the dressing and toss to combine.
Lentil Tahini Salad with Shaved Fennel – serves 4 as a light meal
For the lentils:
- 2 cups cooked Puy lentils (The Kitchn has good tips on cooking lentils here)
- small handful of parsley, washed and chopped
- lemon juice, to taste
- salt and pepper, to taste
For the salad:
- 3-4 cups of mixed salad greens* (frisée, raddichio, watercress, arugula, romaine, and/or mesclun), washed and torn
- 1 English or garden cucumber, sliced into thin long strips
- 1 medium yellow beet, peeled and thinly sliced
- half a fennel bulb, thinly sliced
- ¼ cup fresh mint, washed and torn
- ¼ cup toasted pistachios
- nigella seeds, basil seeds, or black sesame seeds for sprinkling (optional)
For the dressing:
- 2 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
- juice of 2 lemons
- 2 Tbs olive oil
- 1 Tbs tahini paste
1) Combine the cooked lentils with the chopped parsley; season with salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice. Mix and set aside.
2) Combine dressing ingredients; whisk together and set aside.
3) Arrange the salad ingredients on a serving platter, layering as you go along – mixed greens and mint first, then beets, cucumber, and fennel. Add the seasoned lentils on top. Sprinkle with toasted pistachios and seeds (if using). Give the dressing another whisk and drizzle on top. Serve any remaining dressing alongside.