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Southern Ontario summer months, with their abundance of produce, are the best salad time of the year. More and more people enjoy salads throughout the year with a number of store-bought dressings, but true salad months, at least to my palate, are July, August, September and the first half of October. You get the freshest ingredients and this is half the battle; the other half is the dressing. Some people consider salad dressing more important than salad ingredients! However, then some people order shrimp cocktail in restaurants simply to eat the “cocktail sauce”.
Salads are refreshing, light, contain vitamins and add a welcome change to even humble meals. They facilitate digestion. In fact, around the Mediterranean during hot summer days, people are happy with a salad consisting of fresh tomatoes, cucumber, basil, thyme, salt and pepper, feta cheese, scallions and a vinaigrette dressing, accompanied by bread.
Different nations have their salads at different points of a meal, and some even consider it frivolous. Salads consume a lot of space, demand attention, are delicate, and most be transported quickly. All luxuries only few warm countries, with a lot of agricultural land and water can afford. After harvest, salads must be transported quickly. This requires a good highway- and a well organized transportation system.
French eat salad after the main course to cleanse the palate and to prepare it for the cheese or dessert, North Americans eat it mostly as an appetizer to get the gastric juices going, and eastern Mediterranean people always enjoy it with their main course and often throughout the meal.
There is no shortage of salad ingredients in out markets throughout the year, but fresh Ontario produce tastes better and should be enjoyed to the extent possible.
Romaine a k a cos and Boston bib, leaf lettuce, red lettuce, curly endive, and Belgian endive taste much better than iceberg lettuce, by far the most popular salad green has little of any distinct taste, but it possesses a crisp texture and keeps longer than any other or green house grown salad greens, although the latter are very clean and look appealing. Other appropriate salad ingredients are tomatoes, cucumber, celery, scallions, shallots, red onions, Spanish onions, Walla Walla or Vidalia and herbs.
Salads require a dressing to lubricate, and add a welcome taste dimension. The original and oldest of all dressings is the oil and vinegar better known by its French name vinaigrette. Over item, hundreds of variations of it and others where invented by imaginative cooks. You can buy a range of dressings, but they are expensive and contain preservatives. You can create your own with little effort and know the purity of all ingredients.
Homemade dressings are easy to whip up and keep at least up four weeks if they contain no dairy products, but actually, you can just prepare the dressing before use. It takes a few moments. While preparing a vinaigrette, which is the most versatile of all dressings, you can alter it by the addition of one ingredient.
The most important rule in preparing vinaigrette is to dissolve the salt in vinegar first and then add the oil. Blending all ingredients at once will always, up oily, never tart, and refreshing.
Use extra virgin olive oil and the best vinegar you can afford i.e. champagne-, tarragon-flavoured white wine-, red wine-, thyme or tarragon flavoured red wine-, sherry- or cider vinegar.
Balsamic vinegar is more of a condiment and more suitable for flavouring roasted vegetables, meats, and even fresh strawberries, than for salads.
If using mustard, go for prepared Dijon. Keen’s powdered from England s fine but very sharp and must be dissolved in vinegar or oil or in water first to mellow it.
Always grind pepper in the last minute. Oil and vinegar are immiscible. Once you whip the dressing, they will stay together but separate shortly after. If you prepare vinaigrette dressing in advance, reconstitute it before use. You can use mayonnaise for your dressings, or yoghurt, and substitute vinegar with unsweetened orange- or even lemon or lime juice particularly if like to enjoy a glass of wine with your grilled chicken salad. Vinaigrette and wine clash and are best avoided!
Caesar salad is not Italian, but was invented for a group of American journalists in San José California by a Mexican maitre d’hotel, Caesar, upon request to serve a substantial but unusual salad for lunch.
Always place your salad in a large bowl. Prepare the dressing, pour over the salad, and toss for proper coating. These days most restaurants just squirt a few spoonfuls of dressing over a plated salad. A disgrace to the profession!
You can judge the level of professionalism of a restaurant by observing how they dress their salads
Basic vinaigrette dressing
• 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
• 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
• Salt to taste, fleur du sel if you can get it or sea salt
• Freshly ground pepper to taste
Dissolve salt in vinegar.
Pour oil gradually while whisking vigorously.
Add pepper. Adjust seasoning.
Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu
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