the definitive guide to salad – part 1 leaves

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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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