January is most definitely salad season. Yes, you will find me eating raw! We never used to call it that; we simply thought, "It's hot and nature has provided us with a lot of watery and leafy vegetables that need little other than the warm sunshine to make them delicious." I eat salads all throughout the year, keeping the ingredients raw, and other times cooking some of the ingredients - it all depends upon the temperature, what is available and how I am feeling. But come hot January, I'm definitely thinking the time is right for both simple and sustaining salads.
Salads offer the best opportunity to get maximum goodness from your food - those freshly picked, bursting-with-life green leaves or lush tomatoes are full of nourishment. But as good as that sounds, they are nothing without the dressing. I love that in the US I am asked if I would like that salad 'dressed', implying to me that it is naked. For, in a nutritional sense, they are. Fats, in the form of oils (and indeed their close cousins mayonnaise, cream fraiche and yoghurt) adorn, dress and ultimately ensure all that goodness is optimally bio-available.
Fundamentally, a dressing can be an oil and a vinegar, shaken together. The basic formula is three parts oil to one part acid (usually vinegar or lemon). For best results though, always taste and adjust your dressing (balancing and focusing flavour). It can be even more simple - a recent salad of sliced tomatoes and glorious avocado was finished with a drizzle of Vino Cotto, seriously good extra virgin olive oil, and a splash of balsamic vinegar for some much needed acidity. I did increase the flavour profile by scattering a mix of crispy toasted breadcrumbs, fresh herbs and garlic (thrown in the food processor until fine and then laid on a tray, mixed with olive oil and baked until crispy). Oh, can I tell you it worked.
It's a very handy thing also to have a jar of dressing made up and kept in the fridge - enough for a week, any longer and the oil can begin to deteriorate. I love to also add sweet, organic currants to the dressing to plump up, giving you an amazing sweet/sour thing experience when you bite into it. I also like to keep cooked legumes in the dressing - again, they absorb flavour and will last for 3-4 days in that dressing in the fridge. The bonus here is you can add nutrient density to a salad very quickly. I've chosen one of my current favourite salads for this month's recipe; I hope you love it as much as I do.
Wardrobe for a Dressing
It is absolutely critical that you choose only the very freshest, unrefined and cold pressed oils. Uncooked, this is a perfect place to use fragile oils such as walnut and flax. Take care they are not rancid.
1. Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Rich in antioxidants, choose an EVO you like. Just because it's won a medal at some show doesn't mean you will like it. I prefer them full flavoured with no hint of bitterness. Go tasting. Don't overlook olive oils that have been crushed with fruits such as lime, lemon or orange or herbs such as basil. And remember, the oil needs to crushed with the whole orange, or lemon = not have lemon oil/flavour added to the already crushed oil.
2. Flax (linseed) Oil: with a nutty flavour, and high Omega 3 EFAs this is a great choice for a dressing. It does have a slightly bitter flavour profile and will often need some balancing. Only make up enough dressing for use.
3. Unrefined Sesame Oil: Delicious with ginger, great for Asian-influenced dressings.
4. Roasted Sesame Oil: Go easy, for flavouring.
5. Peanut Oil: Both peanut oil and roasted peanut oil are available, and great for Asian-inspired dressings. Take into account allergies before using.
6. Walnut Oil: With high Omega 3 EFAs, and stunning flavour, this makes a delicious dressing. It matches well with beetroot, parsnip, pear, apple and cheeses. Take particular care this is not rancid. It should come from and be stored in the fridge and have no hint of bitterness (rancidity).
7. Other Nut Oils: When available other nut oils such as Hazelnut add delicious flavours to a dressing.
8. Boyajian Citrus Oils: Very handy to have in the cupboard, a couple of drops can add intense flavour to a dressing or mayonnaise.
9. Infused Oils: Olive oils infused with herbs or chilli offer delicious and quick options for a dressing.
Vinegars - Acidity:
True vinegar, traditionally produced, is the product of long fermentation over many months. Unpasteurised and unfiltered (if you can get it), it can be a rich source of many nutrients and is very different to many, instantly produced vinegars on the market today. Buy vinegar in glass as it is a solvent and will break down the polycarbons in plastic.
Acidity is usually expressed in percentage: a high acid vinegar would be 6.5 - 7.5 acidity, a low acid vinegar approx 4%.
You can also consider using whey in a dressing, lemon or lime juice.
1. Apple Cider Vinegar: Unfiltered Apple Cider Vinegar (a naturally fermented vinegar made from apples) is a health promoting vinegar and an extremely rich source of potassium. Wonderful in everyday dressings. If possible, look for unfiltered and unpasteurised apple cider vinegar - it will be a rich source of good bacteria.
2. Brown Rice Vinegar: Beautiful, and a perfect choice for Asian- inspired dressings.
3. Balsamic Vinegar: Smooth and deep, sweet and luscious, this low acid vinegar needs a robust salad to match it.
4. Fruit Vinegars: Oh goodness, I love these, especially when they are good. Raspberry Vinegar is perfect for fruit based salads on a hot summer day.
5. Ume (boshi) Vinegar: technically not vinegar, but the pickling salts from the umeboshi plum process, which drips down as they pickle. It has great fruit flavour and is very salty - wonderful in a dressing.
6. Wine Vinegars: Made from white or red wine, sherry or champagne, each has something to offer. Champagne has a delicate, sharp and light flavour; sherry is assertive and highly acidic. White wine is a nice neutral vinegar, and great in mayonnaise.
To Balance and Focus Flavour
1. Salt, Tamari or Anchovies for focusing
2. Fruit juice concentrate (apple especially), mirin, maple syrup, vino cotto for balance (too much bitterness or acidity).
To help Emulsify:
3. Egg Yolk
To Add Flavour:
Goodness, the list here is long, but fresh herbs, garlic, ginger, dried spices, citrus juices are just a few examples.
Try Jude's Summer Breakfast Salad in the Recipes archive