The tender lettuces and delicate herbs of spring are but a fond memory. Fall salads are hearty and bold.
Tempted as I am to give you a recipe for one fabulous salad or another, I would do you a greater service by describing how to put one together with what you happen to have on hand.
The basic principle of salad building is fairly simple: Create a contrasting combination of colors, textures and flavors.
It sounds easy and is easy. You want a bit of crisp, soft, creamy and crunchy; a mix of sweet, salty, acidic, pungent or bitter, earthy; a range of colors when you can. Not every note will be hit in every salad, but aiming for some mix will help you build fresh, tempting creations. Steamed, sautéed, roasted, toasted and even fried ingredients add more textures.
Let’s say you have a beautiful winter squash—a Kabocha, for example. It isn’t good raw (at least not in my humble opinion), but sliced or chopped into chunks and roasted, you have a sweet, soft, orange wonder. Perhaps you throw some thinly slivered and raw red onion for crispness, more color and a bit of pungency. Some radicchio would add some crunch and crisp freshness, as well as a bitter note to further balance the sweet squash. Some creamy blue cheese would add a creamy note to great effect. Rye bread or walnut bread croutons or small toasts would bring some earthiness and body.
Or start on a more traditional note with some crisp and slightly bitter Belgian endive. Add sweet and crunchy Bosc pears and earthy toasted walnuts. A few pomegranate seeds or a few leaves of parsley or celery leaves can add a note of color, if you’re so inclined.
In all cases, it’s the dressing that pulls everything together. Three parts oil (olive, vegetable, avocado, various nut) to one part acid (lemon juice, lime juice, various vinegars) seasoned with salt is the most basic formula. Help the whole thing emulsify with a bit of mustard (fresh or ground; both work), cream or sour cream or crème fraîche, or pan juices. Add minced shallots, garlic or other aromatics for a bright, pungent kick. Minced herbs add a grassy green edge. Creamy dressing might use buttermilk or yogurt instead of the oil. Soft cheeses can be blended in as well. A cube of sugar or bit of honey, maple syrup or agave nectar can be used to add sweetness, either to make a dressing actually sweet or to balance out an overly sour or salty dressing. As with all cookery, tasting is the tell. Taste often and adjust until you like the flavor. Tasting a bit of dressing with a spoon is fine, but it’s all the better to dip a piece of the salad into the dressing to get a sense of the final effect.
This content was published in the Fall 2012 issue of Edible San Francisco Magazine. © 2012 Edible San Francisco This website and its content is a copyrighted work of Edible Communities, Inc. © 2012. All rights reserved. You may not, except with our express written consent, distribute or commercially exploit the content. Nor may you transmit it or store it on any other website or other electronic or printed form.