Cooking with attitude: Salad days
Saturday 28 March 1998
Unfortunately, the "classic" English salad consists of damp iceberg lettuce with brown edges, thick chewy slices of cucumber, a half tomato (no flavour), a sprinkling of cress, and a blob of salad cream if you're lucky. Hardly inspiring. So how do you do the concept of salad justice?
Use fresh, young leaves. Red oak-leaf, rocket or batavia are decent, although you can get new exotic salad leaves like shungiko (a dwarf chrysanthemum), mizuna, texel, tatsal, gold orach, serrated santo, celtuce and Jaba.
Cut the leaves, don't tear them. Tearing causes the edges of the leaves to oxidise and go brown Remember not to toss in the dressing until you need to serve - otherwise the dressing will wilt the leaves.
Don't use Lollo Rosso. It is limp-wristed and tasteless.
If using purslane, radicchio, claytonia, or frisee be sparing - these leaves have a bitter or sour taste and will dominate.
Try this out for size
Baby spinach salad with warm honey dressing
The salad: 1lb baby spinach leaves, washed & cleaned
20 rashers smoked streaky bacon
4 firm (but ripe) avocados
2 tsb olive oil.
Cut bacon "across the grain" into 1/4-inch wide strips, and fry in olive oil until crisp. Slice the avocado in half, de-stone it, slice into 1/4" thick slices and fan out on the bed of cleaned spinach.
The dressing: virgin olive oil, raspberry or cider vinegar, clear honey, sea salt, freshly ground black pepper. Proportions: 1 vinegar:1 honey:2 oil (for eight people you will need 4 tbsp vinegar).
Dissolve salt (two large pinches) into the vinegar, stir in 4 tbsp honey, add 8 tbsp oil and stir. Season with plenty of black pepper, and warm very gently in a pan.
Assembly: Sprinkle bacon generously over the top of the salad and pour over the warm dressing.
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