Salads are becoming an integral part of our daily diets, but you’ve got to make sure you have the rudiments right… but where to start? We often go and buy all the fancy ingredients, only to find we’re short on some basics. It’s also not always about what goes into the salad but what contributes to the salad….
So the first thing for me is the dressing, as a great dressing makes a salad three-dimensional. Even if you have all the necessary ingredients to make a sensational salad, without a quality dressing to finish it off, it just won’t be 5-star. Whether you add the dressing directly to the salad or serve it on the side, a salad without a dressing is just, well, not dressed.
ALSO READ: 3 great salad dressings to try
2. Quality olive oil
With that in mind, the first thing to always have in your cupboard is a good quality olive oil. Buy the best you can afford. But there’s no need to buy expensive international products as South African olive oils are excellent, winning numerous international awards. If you’re feeling adventurous you can even infuse your own oils with different herbs.
3. Fresh herbs
Which brings me on to the next staple in your cupboard or fridge – herbs. I always have a selection of both dried and fresh. The dried ones I like to use on a regular basis are origanum, rosemary and thyme. To add some extra oomph to salad leaves, use fresh herbs like basil and mint. Basil is the perfect partner for tomato and mint adds a freshness to the tastebuds.
Lemons are another great staple and what’s even better is you can use the whole lemon. Essentially lemon juice makes an important contribution to your dressing but if you’ve run out of olive oil, you can simply squeeze some juice over your salad along with some salt and pepper.
You can also zest the lemon and use the zest as part of the dressing or scatter the zest on top of your finished salad. Lemon pairs well with fish and chicken as well as many vegetarian dishes, so you can simply cut the lemons up and serve the wedges on the side of your salad.
When it comes to the actual salad ingredients, it’s always a good idea to have some fresh, plump tomatoes in your fridge. I like to have a combination of the large ones as well as the smaller Rosa and cherry tomatoes. If you need a quick side salad of tomatoes and onions you can slice up the large ones, or add some of the smaller ones, whole, into a mixed salad bowl.
6. Baby Spinach
Baby spinach leaves are another favourite. I use these instead of lettuce leaves as they have more nutrients than most ordinary lettuce. They’ve got a lovely, deep colour to them and are very versatile as they can also be sautéed or added to pastas and stews.
I also keep a combination of red, yellow and green peppers. Whether chopped into small cubes, julienned or even roasted whole, they make perfect partners to many other ingredients with their big, bold colours and flavours.
Whether you’re a meat-eater, a chicken lover, a seafood enthusiast or a vegetarian, get the basics right and you can experiment and enjoy making salads a tasty and healthy part of your daily diet.
Chantal Lascaris is the cookbook author of ‘All Sorts of Salads‘.