Making a salad isn't difficult but they can end up being a little boring. At Green Farm, our simple Garden Salad uses lots of our amazing lettuces and leaves, a wide variety of herbs, flowers, fennel - depending on what is growing in the garden - our apples when they are in season and local chopped cobnuts.
When keeping a salad simple and letting the ingredients speak for themselves, you need to pick it super fresh which for us at the farm is within 20 mins of it going on the table. This not only means that the salad retains its freshness but you also retain much more of the delicious and nutritious goodness found in fresh, raw vegetables.
But a salad doesn't need to just be leaf based, there are so many other options out there to keep it interesting - whether as a side, starter, light lunch or main meal. Here are my rules and guidelines for creating the perfect salad every single time, no matter what you have in the fridge or cupboards.
In my opinion every salad must have options 1-4 and then as many of 5-7 as you want.
1. Vegetable Base: Lettuce, Leaves, Greens, Raw, Grilled, Roasted
2. Vegetable Extra: Herbs, Lettuce, Leaves, Greens, Raw, Grilled, Roasted, Pickled, Fruit
3. Dressing: Citrus/Vinegar/Mustard/Creamy/Tahini/Herb/Pesto
4. Crunch: Seeds, Nuts, Croutons, Raw veg, Raw fruit
5. Protein: Meat, Cheese, Fish, Beans, Pulses, Legumes, Yoghurt
6. Grains: Buckwheat, Couscous, Farro, Pasta, Quinoa, Barley etc.
7. Toppings: Spices, Oils, Sauces, Dried Fruit, Herbs, Dried Herbs, Flowers
For a salad you need at least one veg as a base and then preferably you'd have at least three vegetable extras. For instance our Green Farm Garden Salad:
Vegetable base: Butter Lettuce and Lamb's Lettuce
Vegetable extra: Rocket leaves, Spinach leaves, thinly sliced Fennel, thinly sliced apple
Dressing: lemon, Dijon mustard, olive oil, salt, pepper (the lettuces are 'light' in weight so need a light dressing)
Crunch: toasted cobnuts, but also from the fennel and apple
Topping: garlic chive flowers, mint and tarragon
Lettuce, Leaves & Greens are what most people think when they hear the word 'salad.' And as mentioned this is because leaves and greens need to be eaten fresh. Choose tender lettuce leaves and greens, like spinach, Bibb or Little Gem, for more delicate salads; spicy or bitter greens, like Rocket, Frisée or Chicory for crisp and crunchy salads to cut through rich dishes; or hard greens, like thinly sliced kale, cabbage or chard for marinated and massaged salads for the base of salad mains with other grilled or cooked vegetables.
Raw: Lettuce, leaves and greens aren't the only ones who can go raw. Try using a vegetable peeler to make bigger veggies more palatable - such as courgettes, asparagus, fennel, broccoli, carrots etc. For crunchy vegetables, like turnips and beetroots, just chop them into thin slivers or small bite-size pieces and throw them in.
Grilled: Grilling vegetables like peppers, courgettes, spring onions, aubergine, tender stem broccoli or any vegetable you can fathom adds smokiness and a nice charred flavour. Grilling also keeps a little more texture to the veg than roasting does.
Roasted: Hot or cold, roasted vegetables add another flavour level to your salad. Roasting provides extra sweetness to many vegetables as the sugars condense. As well as squash, pumpkin, celeriac, carrots, peppers and almost any other veg, my favourites is roasted cauliflower with lots of herbs, spices, almonds and sultanas.
Pickled: Pickled vegetables add tart and clean note to any salad. Whether that's pickled beetroot, carrots, cucumbers, sauerkraut, capers, cornichons etc. My favourite quick pickle to add is red cabbage. Slice red cabbage thinly and dress in cider vinegar, a pinch of sugar and salt, caraway seeds and leave to macerate for at least 30 mins, turning regularly with a fork.
Without a dressing, your salad is just a bowl of ingredients. Depending on what you have used as your base or what the majority of your salad is made up of there are some simple dressing rules to follow.
The lighter the leaf or base, the lighter the dressing such a lemon and oil or classic mustard vinaigrette
Oil should always be Extra Virgin Olive Oil or good quality British Rapeseed oil
Tomato salads love olive oil, vinegar (preferably Sherry or Red Wine), a little brown sugar, salt and pepper
Balsamic Vinegar should only be used on it's own with oil, salt and pepper and used sparingly on dark green leaves such as rocket and spinach
1:1:1 - oil, mustard and acid is the most basic dressing ratio
Check the acidity level of your vinegar before starting or the tartness of your citrus, depending on how ripe the fruit is will affect it's sugar content
Use an old jar to make a dressing and give it a good shake
When buying vinegar, buy natural based vinegars (ideally with the 'mother') such as cider, white/red wine, Sherry etc. White and malt vinegar can be used but aren't as good
If you have used a jar of capers or cornichons and are left with the juice, don't throw it away but use it as a base for a dressing
Pesto or blitzed herbs are a great dressing base, just add some acid and a little more oil to loosen
Citrus and Vinegar: A classic vinaigrette is made with fat and acid. Traditionally it is olive oil and either vinegar or lemon juice. But they are great with mustard to make a classic French dressing, with dried herbs such as oregano, chilli flakes and garlic for an Italian dressing
Creamy: Hearty salads with big flavours can stand up to creamy, rich dressings like mayonnaise, cream, sour cream, cheese, tahini, avocado based dressing. Creamy dressings suit crisp lettuces such as Iceberg, Cos and Romaine as well as Kale and Chard.
CRUNCH Having something textural in a salad really makes it feel complete. That could be crispy fried bread, croutons, nuts, seeds, crunchy fruit or raw veg.
You could certainly stop there but there is always more layers to add to make a salad even more interesting. Choose as many as you want:
5. Protein: Meat, Cheese, Fish, Beans, Pulses, Legumes, Yoghurt
6. Grains: Buckwheat, Couscous, Farro, Pasta, Quinoa, Barley etc. but be mindful to add more dressing as these will soak up more dressing.
7. Toppings: Spices, Oils, Sauces, Dried Fruit, Herbs, Dried Herbs, Flowers - my personal favourites are dried oregano, sumac, seeds, pomegranate molasses and edible flowers.