Baby, it’s cold outside!
…& I’m writing about leaf salad… a subject rather associated w/ spring & summer…
You can prepare a leaf salad all year round: it only depends on the lettuce leaves just available. While during spring & summer there are primarily rather delicate lettuce leaves – in autumn & winter think of more tough types like radicchio, spinach, field salad, chicory & co.
For the record:
Yes – there’s also kale: it became the most fashionable type of lettuce leaves nowadays due to its alleged superfood qualities… Well: I’ve never tried kale in a leaf salad so far…
The common basis for a leaf salad (surprise!) are the lettuce leaves, lots of lettuce leaves – the rest is simply to enhance the tastiness!
During summer & autumn I presented some blog entries on leaf salad (like mixed leaf salad, romaine lettuce etc). I could – easily – add some more versions of leaf salad… so what’s so tempting especially for people w/ too many office hours?
There are 4 types of ingredients:
- lettuce leaves (a no-brainer!)
- vinaigrette (also a no-brainer!)
- some “other” ingredients (like vegetables, herbs, cheese, egg…) in small quantities
- some seeds & nuts in even smaller quantities.
Take a head of lettuce (like an iceberg lettuce or a romaine lettuce or…) & rip it apart. Discard any outer leaves as well as any limp or brown leaves. Rinse the leaves thoroughly. Dry the leaves thoroughly in a salad spinner. (There’s no other way of dealing w/ the basics if it’s field salad or arugula…). You may also start w/ assorted lettuce leaves – if thrown together at home or in your trusted food store.
You may pull the leaves in pieces or just cut them w/ a knife.
For 2 people – as a main dish w/ baguette & butter – you should think of 1 head of lettuce resp. about 100 gr ready-to eat lettuce leaves. If you like a mixed leaf salad it’s better to buy it ready-to-go or you’ll end up w/ leftovers which arn’t really storable for more than 1-2 days – so if don’t plan to have leaf salad more than once…
For 4 people it’s the right size for a side salad or just double it for serving as a main dish.
So now we’ve got a big bowl w/ ready-to-eat lettuce leaves!
Next step in the process: add any “other” ingredients!
Be careful at this point because it’s a leaf salad & it should stay a leaf salad… We’re talking about:
- 2-3 finely chopped spring onions or
- 1-2 tablespoons finely chopped chives or
- 3-4 finely chopped radishes or
- 3-4 finely chopped mushrooms (medium size) or
- 2-3 finely sliced plum or cherry tomatoes or
- 1-2 finely sliced (cooked) potatoes (medium size) or
- 2-3 tablespoons finely sliced quartered cucumber or
- 1/4 mandoline-sliced fennel or
- about 50 gr (or more) cheese shavings (like parmesan, pecorino, gouda…) or
- about 50 gr pulled tuna or
- 1-2 crushed (cooked) eggs or
- 1-2 tablespoons chopped crisp bacon or
- 2-4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh Mediterranean herbs or
- 1 tablespoon dried Mediterranean herbs or
(The amounts rely to a main dish for 2 people… just adapt the same way as for the basics!)
I think you’ve got it:
Add some vegetables or some cheese or meat or some herbs – everything finely crushed – and mix it w/ the lettuce leaves. Just open your fridge or your pantry & grab what’s available & seems to fit!
Don’t overdo: It’s always fine to have just 4-5 “other” ingredients at a time!
… and (important!): stay away from any finely grated/grounded cheese! It will damage the consistency of the vinaigrette!
So now we’ve got a big bowl w/ lettuce leaves & “additional tasty bits”!
Now we can relax a little bit… The salad may be stored in the fridge for some hours if needed! Or we can proceed…
The most simple vinaigrette is a mix of oil & vinegar…, but we can do better! Add salt & pepper, add mustard, add honey (or sugar or jam… – all optional), add mayonnaise (optional). Everything marches straight in a sealable container: shake it vigorously! We only accept a soft & viscous vinaigrette.
Keep away from finely chopped spring onions etc. when preparing the vinaigrette – you’ve already added any “bits-like” ingredients before.
You may start w/ olive oil (best: extra virgin olive oil) or canola oil or sunflower oil or avocado oil or whatever oil… same is valid for vinegar: you may use balsamic vinegar or red wine vinegar or white wine vinegar or raspberry vinegar or plum vinegar or whatever vinegar… It is only essential that oil & vinegar once combined go together.
Mustard – if spicy, if sweet – adds a special flavour not being delivered by oil & vinegar: don’t skip it!
Well: the combinations are endless… You’ll develop your special signature vinaigrette rather soon!
Keep in mind that too many types of oil (aka lots of open oil bottles) or too many types of vinegar (aka lots of open vinegar bottles) tend to create a long-term mess in your kitchen! (Confine yourself to few quality products…)
How much vinaigrette do you need?
Start w/ 2-3 tablespoon oil & 1-2 tablespoons vinegar for a 2-person-salad… have in mind that the vinaigrette should mingle with all the leaves, but the leaves shouldn’t go for a swim! Adjust proportionally…
So now add the vinaigrette & toss the salad thoroughly!
Now we’ve got a big bowl w/ read-to be-served leaf salad!
Stop once more for “seeds & nuts:
We’re talking about sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, pomegranate seeds, walnuts, pecans… I admit: that’s not my scene! If you like it feel free to add 1-2 tablespoons of seeds & nuts… just sprinkle it all over the salad!
… & don’t overdo: 1 type of seeds or nuts should be fine!
Now we’re finally ready!
Out of wisdom & experience:
- Never skip rinsing lettuce leaves even if they seem only a slightly sandy. Nobody likes crunching teeth because grains of sand!
- Never forget to reduce any lettuce leaves to bite-sized pieces. It isn’t fun if you are forced to manage bulky lettuce leaves dripping w/ vinaigrette!
- Don’t use any vinegar too acidic or too much of it! Many a guest has a sensitive stomach.
- Don’t skip tossing the lettuce leaves & the vinaigrette before serving. We are not at a hotel buffet where you mix your own salad & choose out of 4-5 different vinaigrettes… nor is it amusing to have to toss the leaf salad on your plate splashing the vinaigrette…
A buffet w/ leaf salad?
Well… A fresh made leaf salad is fine – a leaf salad sitting on a buffet for some hours is unappetizing…
If you like to have a leave salad make sure it’s only a rather small bowl emptied soon or think of another salad option.
I prefer a vinaigrette of olive oil & balsamic vinegar w/ sweet & spicy French mustard (and salt & freshly ground pepper): that’s my signature vinaigrette.
The businesswoman with too many office hours thinks
It doesn’t really matter whatever I’ve got in my pantry & my fridge: some leftover vegetables, some cheese, some fresh herbs from my window sill will always do.
I only need fresh lettuce leaves (of course: fresh!) & can pillage my oils, vinegars, mustards… I can add the last 3 tomatoes & some tablespoons of parmesan shavings. Or I take an egg & some mayonnaise… Or I harvest the last basil leaves…
Yes: the options are endless & I can be really creative! …but I think it’s wise to confine to a limited number of ingredients at a time. There should always be a distinct flavour.
I don’t need to stick to a recipe, but may replace… I only have to take care of the overall flavour – not that a single mistake destroys it!
It’s perfect for my kitchen!