the definitive guide to salad – part 1 leaves

salad & noodles-9 salad & noodles-6

Over New Years I was lucky enough to have some fabulous house guests from Melbourne for a couple of days: my gorgeous mate Missy Helgs and her beau ‘The Jackyl’. And I was even luckier because when I came home from a tough first day back in the office in 6 weeks, submitting my resignation, they had a celebratory bottle of Sparkling wine chilled and dinner all under control.

You have to love house guests that take over your kitchen. And you have to love house guests that make you a really lovely salad and when you compliment them on the dressing, thry credit it back to you. It’s so good being reminded of old favourites especially by dear old friends.

It got me thinking about how much I love salad. How versatile it is. How healthy and fresh it can be. How it’s usually so quick to prepare. Which gave me the bright idea to have a stonesoup salad extravganza with a weekly salad post in which is going to look something like this:

Part 1: leaves
Part 2: dressings
Part 3: grains, legumes & nuts
Part 4: protein based salads
Part 5: stonesoup all time favourite salads

So if you have any burning salad questions, or suggestions please share them in the comments and lets discover the answers together.

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stonesoup salad secrets – part 1 leaves
i. wash
With all that surface area there’s plenty of space for dirt or even worse chemical residue which means it’s important to wash your leaves and herbs. While the number of options of prewashed packaged salad leaves is ever expanding, not everything that is in a packet has been washed so make sure you read the label.

ii. dry
You’ve heard about oil and water not mixing right? Well if you want your tasty oil based dressing to stick to your leaves, you need to make sure they’re nice and dry which brings me to point number (iii).

iii. invest in a salad spinner
I highly recommend investing in a salad spinner, even though there are more and more prewashed leaves on the market. It’s the easiest, quickest way to get leaves clean and most importantly dry (see point ii). And means that you don’t have to rely on the expensive packaged lettuce.

iv. explore new leaves
If you’re feeling a bit uninspired it’s time to branch out and try some new leaves, or even reconnect with some old favourites. A soft butter lettuce will be a fraction of the price of a bag of wild rocket (arugula) ($1.75 vs $3.85 at my veggie shop) and makes for a very different salad eating experience.

Or try some bitter crunchy witlof or endive to spice things up. And don’t forget about herbs. With their beautiful fragrance they can lift a salad to a new level. Or better yet, try a salad made solely from mixed soft herbs like parsley, coriander (cilantro) and mint.

v. shave it
I remember the first time I tried Karen Martini’s shaved fennel salad with ricotta and peas. I couldn’t believe how wonderful and crunchy and refreshing it was. It opened up a whole new world of salad possibilities. If you’re into shaved salads investing in a mandoline or v-slicer makes it super easy to get delicately thin slices, but a sharp knife and a steady hand can be fine if you want to stick to minimalist kitchen principles.

vi. fruit
I used to think fruit in salad was a bit weird when I was a young country gal but these days I’m a big fan. Black figs with proscuitto, orange or ruby grapefruit segments with shaved fennel, pomegranate, shaved pear with rocket (arugula) & parmesan, crispy apple cut into matchsticks, grapes, even watermelon. The possibilities are endless. I’ve found smaller pieces of fruit work better as big sweet bits can overpower your dressing and ruin the sweet / savoury balance.

vii. veg
Pretty much if it’s a vegetable it can go in a salad. Some, like potatoes, eggplant (aubergine) squash and parsnip are better if they’re precooked but others like fennel, zucchini, snow peas, beets, capsicum (peppers) just need to be finely sliced and they’re good to go.

viii. storage tips – prewashed leaves
These days most prewashed packaged salad have gas flushed into the packaging to remove the oxygen and keep the salad fresher for longer. This only works of course until you open the pack. Once it is open make sure you close it tightly as possible when you put it back in the fridge to stop the leaves drying out.

ix. storage tips – whole lettuce
I tend to store whole lettuces sealed in a plastic bag in the crisper section unwashed. But if you are wanting the leaves to last longer I find it’s best to separate the leaves. Wash and spin dry then wrap in paper towel and seal inside a plastic bag. I haven’t yet experimented to confirm this makes the leaves last longer but will put it on my list and report back.

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crispy chilli squid salad.
serves 2

I have Missy Helgs to thank for introducing me to frozen squid hoods. I’d always a bit of a calamari snob and insisted on cleaning my own fresh from the fish market. But there is a definite benefit to having all the messy prep work done for you and the squid on call in the freezer for a last minute dinner. And the texture is surprisingly tender, apparently the freezing and thawing process actually helps with that.

I like it spicy and hot and went with the higher level of chilli flakes. If your tastebuds are more delicate, best to back it down to the 1/2 teaspoon. You can always serve some chilli flakes on the side for the hot heads.

If you aren’t a fan of frying, you could BBQ the squid instead. In that case skip the flour and make a little marinade with some olive oil and the chilli and toss the prepared squid through that instead before cooking on a hot BBQ plate.

1 – 2 squid hoods
2T plain flour
1/2 – 2t chilli flakes
peanut or veg oil for shallow frying
150g (5oz) snow peas (mange tout)
1 bunch mint, leaves picked
1 bunch corriander, leaves picked
1 head green oak leaf or butter lettuce, leaves picked
for the dressing:
1T dijon mustard
2T lemon juice
2T extra virgin olive oil

In the base of a large salad bowl combine dressing ingredients until creamy and season.

Cut the squid hoods down one side and open them out like a book. Score the flesh in a diamond pattern making sure you don’t cut all the way through. Cut into rough triangle shapes about as big as 2 mouthfuls. Pat dry with paper towel.

Combine flour chilli and some salt and pepper in a plastic bag. Add prepared squid and shake to coat in the flour. If you’re using 2 squid you may need a little more flour.

Cover the base of a large drying pan with a shallow layer of oil and heat until very hot. Add a piece of squid. If it sizzles rapidly add the remaining squid. If it doesn’t pull the squid out and wait until the oil is hotter. Shallow fry until squid is crispy and golden on each side. Drain on paper towel.

Toss leaves, herbs and peas through the dressing then top with the squid. I like to serve this in a big bowl in the middle of the table and let everyone help themselves.

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A big THANKYOU to everyone for the support with my big career change. I need to work on my sales skills but if you’d like to support stonesoup and help keep me off the streets, you can order a copy of my cookbook ‘And the Love is Free’ HERE. Happy to ship it anywhere in the world.

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{ 21 comments }

Claire January 11, 2010 at 9:21 pm

Hooray for the salad spinner – I have been (lightly) teased for my adoration of mine! And as for fruit in salad – oh yes, if it’s right, it’s right. Have just sat down to a chicken, mango, chili and mint salad for supper. YUM. And about all that’s bearable in this heat! Quick question re: frozen squid.. I have been guilty of that self imposed snobbery… do you have a brand you recommend? and how long (roughly) does it take to defrost?
(Hooray too for career change – although I hope you’ve left the development of chocolate biscuits in safe hands.. hate to think tea time may not be the same.. :-))

jude January 11, 2010 at 9:28 pm

Thanks, great info there. Just a quick lettuce-storage solution though. Wrap whole lettuce (any sort) in wet/squeezed teatowel, then plastic bag. MAGIC….keeps for weeks, especially if using a few leaves every few days. Changed my life.

jules January 11, 2010 at 9:36 pm

hey jude
am definitely going to try out your tea towel trick. thanks for the tip. love seeing life changing and salad in the same paragraph

hey claire
your dinner sounds perfect. I haven’t used mango in a salad in ages. actually I haven’t had a mango yet this summer. definitely need to remedy that.
It was just the stuff from the deli section so no brand. In this weather it only took an hour or so to defrost but you could speed things up with a microwave

and don’t worry your tea time is in very safe hands my colleague Jan is still on the case and she’s been doing it for over 25 years so am certain she’ll whip my replacement into shape

Fiona January 11, 2010 at 9:52 pm

Rocket is still my fave . that with baby spinach to base my salad rocks my world. I don’t really like butter lettuce or purple ones. I love iceberg heheh

Charley January 11, 2010 at 10:43 pm

I probably sound daft, but I never thought to dry the leaves after washing them. We frequently do a rasberry vinaigrette and then I add a little oil in addition to that. I’ve never really realized the reason why it didn’t mix together well. Simple…

- Charley

kate January 12, 2010 at 12:31 am

I can justly say that storing lettuce leaves in a plastic bag with a paper towel does help extend their life. I buy head lettuces for everything, wash them right away and spin out the excess. They are then wrapped in paper towels and placed in the fridge. While a few leaves my brown and wilt, the majority of it stays fresh and crisp, sometimes for as long as a week.

Sara January 12, 2010 at 2:40 am

I love your blog; you are now in “my favourites”… and u are invited to visit mine! I´ll be back very soon. How was it at “El Bulli”? Sorry about “my english”.

Coach J January 12, 2010 at 5:13 am

Good timing on these posts, what with all the New Year’s “eat healthy” resolutions. I know I’m looking to shed a few of those winter pounds myself. I really love your blog (thus far – I’m a newbie); thanks for sharing your recipes.

Kate Malbon January 12, 2010 at 6:20 am

Hi – love the inspiring salad post. Just what we need to remember salad is healthy, tasty and exciting.
By the way – I bought your book and gave it to my mum as a gift. She is an Aussie living in the UK and I thought it would remind her of her childhood. She loved it and it inspired her to contact her family and get hold of her own mother’s recipe book which she then gave to me for Christmas. I couldn’t be more thrilled the have received such a invaluable and personal gift. So thanks Jules for the inspiration and for your lovely book.
All the best with the career change – you’ve made the right decision!

jennifer January 12, 2010 at 7:53 am

Inspired!!

Bill in NZ January 12, 2010 at 8:24 am

Hiya, Jules. Further to Jude’s tea towel suggestion, I always wrap my lettuce in a strip of several sheets of paper kitchen towels — no need to wet them. The lettuce keeps for weeks and you can throw out the paper towels afterward. Things like chives, however, seem to keep better when tightly wrapped in aluminium foil…

spice and more January 12, 2010 at 3:16 pm

Lovely post, gorgeous pics. I would love to eat more salads but often feel that I lack the inspiration/creativity to make a really good salad….so I am looking forward to the weekly salad posts. I love the look of that squid salad. I too have to confess to squid/fish market snobbery….willing to give the frozen a go though based on your recommendation.

twirling betty January 12, 2010 at 3:24 pm

My sister-in-law and I had a conversation just yesterday about how our salad spinners had changed our lives. That’s the actual sentence that came out of my mouth. So embarrassing. But I simply can’t put a price on not having to dry my salad leaves between 40 million pieces of absrobent paper towel.

kathryn January 12, 2010 at 3:41 pm

Lovely salad Jules, plus I’m looking forward to the rest of your series.

And. I’m late with my blog reading, so have only just read your news from last week. Congratulations Jules, that is very exciting news. And how lovely to be greeted with a bottle of wine and dinner when you got home.

Best of luck Jules.

jules January 12, 2010 at 7:01 pm

fiona,
i’m still a massive rocket addict. am trying to break free. how can you not love radicchio?

charley
life’s all about the simple things. glad to shed some light for you

thanks for the paper towel confirmation kate

thanks sara. el bulli was fabulous. you can read all about it at my restaurant review blog eat|shop|drink http://eatshopdrink.net/2009/12/this-girls-in-love-a-perfect-evening-at-elbulli/

pleasure coach j. thx for dropping by

kate
so lovely to hear from you. I remember sending you the book. I’m so excited by what your mum did for you. you’ve made my day with that story

bill
interesting about the chives and aluminium foil. I wonder why that is?

spice and more. glad to hear I’m not the only guilty squid snob… I’m not saying it’s as good as fresh but it isn’t as bad as you think. and so easy. it’s worth the small sacrifice in flavour. and hope you get into salad making more. they’re so versatile.

twirling betty. I think I’ve spoken the words salad spinner and life changing in the same sentence myself. completely agree with you.

thanks kathryn

yours deliciously January 12, 2010 at 11:41 pm

Your blog and photos are beautiful. Also, Thank you for a very informative post. :)

Caput Mundi Cibus January 13, 2010 at 11:27 am

Jules!
Great salady post! :)
And yes, squid and octopus usually BENEFIT from being frozen before cooking, it does make it more tender. ALL italian grandmothers know THAT! ;)

Under_Exposed January 13, 2010 at 1:37 pm

Hi Jules…one of my favourite salad ever has NO LEAVES at all…it’s a striking combination of watermelon, fetta, olives and I think a dressing made with pomegranate molasses…must dig it out for you.

Speaking of fruit, my second-favourite salad ever is the blood orange, beetroot and rhubarb salad from the Tetsuya cookbook. Simply gorgeous.

And I had a little giggle at your minimalism eschewing the purchase of a mandoline while promoting the salad spinner. Without a very sharp knife and a very steady hand you simply can’t shave (and I do mean “shave”) something like a cabbage for a delicate salad experience (remember Andy Bunn’s baby cabbage salad from Cafe Sopra?)

Look forward to the next instalments.

jules January 14, 2010 at 8:30 am

thanks yours deliciously

I’ve always wished I had an Italian grandmother. Now I know why(!) thanks for confirming my suspicions caput mundi cibus

under_exposed
how could I forget the shaved cabage salad – still one of my all time favourites. not so sure about the watermelon & feta though

Pen January 25, 2010 at 2:28 pm

I’m all set to try the squid salad, but can’t find chilli flakes locally. Are they the same as crushed dried chillies from Asian delis?

jules January 26, 2010 at 5:15 pm

hey pen,
crushed dried chilli would work. or even chilli powder.
enjoy!

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