“I have a love-hate relationship with salads”... it’s probably one of the most common thoughts people have.
We all want to LOVE salads, but we find that very often, we don’t.
My hate for salads stems from the lack of thought I put into them. One day I’d have a perfectly dressed salad, with a beautiful ratio of seeds to leaves for that sought-after crunchiness everyone craves and a varied and harmonious selection of veggies; then another day I’d have a bowl of lettuce, cut up tomatoes and cucumber topped with salt and balsamic vinegar or hemp seeds.
Can you tell where this love/hate feeling comes from?
I can be incredibly unimaginative at times (that’s when I’m tired, can’t think properly or need to make something quickly). Which is why I feel like calling that lettuce, tomato, cucumber concoction a salad is extremely offensive to all proper salads.
Is there a formula to make the perfect salad that doesn’t take extra time or planning? How can we upgrade our mediocre piles of leaves into a work of art that we actually want to eat?
You probably already heard this but more often than not, the presentation is what really gets us salivating even before we take that first bite. And it makes sense, if something is really badly presented, chances are you won’t be excited to tuck in, not to mention, take a picture of it.
So going back to my question, how do you make a salad at home look appetising?
How do you elevate your everyday homemade salad without putting too much thought into it?
The overall presentation of a dish begins way before it’s time to plate it. A good rule of thumb is to think about your ingredients first, what are the shapes and sizes of your ingredients? What’s the best way to cut them?
I personally love when ingredients are thinly sliced with the help of a mandolin. Like when cucumber slices are so thin and translucent you could read a handwritten letter through them.
You can play around by thinking how two ingredients can be combined and presented together. You’ll see in the recipe below that we sliced a cucumber lengthwise with a peeler to create rosettes that will later on hold half a cherry tomato. It’s both pretty, inventive and it makes any salad look ten times better.
Textures & Toppings
Perhaps the most overlooked steps of all. Chances are you never remember to add a bit of crunch to your salad. (It happens to the best of us.)
Don’t underestimate the power of sunflower seeds, hemp seeds and pumpkin seeds. They are not only good for dd you, but they add a lovely earthy nuttiness to any dish.
The same goes for texture, think about different vegetables, their textures and how you can bring them all together. Think roasted pumpkin, adding fruit to salads (pear, strawberry, fresh herbs and mashed vegetables resembling hummus, like beetroot.)
Layering is key when it comes to creating the perfect salad. Think of it as a burger.
Putting together a burger takes a bit of thought, especially if you want to use unconventional ingredients. A salad is no different, you will have a base, a middle, a topping and a dressing that not only marries everything together but adds moisture and seasons it all.
I’m going to go ahead and say that dressings and seasonings are the most important part of a salad, and if you don’t believe it then ask yourself, why do restaurant serve mostly dressings with a side of salad? Leaves and other veggies are drowned in that stuff because as much as we (once again) would absolutely love to love eating tomatoes as they are (ps. they are very tasty, especially the ones grown in places like Spain and Greece) – when you put a bunch of veggies together with no lubrication it’s like grazing on a bunch of grass, farm-animal-style. It goes without saying but, you shouldn’t go around adding tablespoons and tablespoons of dressing to your salads; oils and condiments can have unreasonable amounts of fat and sugars – so you’ll have to be careful and just add enough.
Za'atar Butternut Squash Salad with Cucumber & Plum Tomato Rosettes
🕑 45 minutes
For the salad
- 1 large cucumber
- 150g cherry or plum tomatoes (cut in halves)
- 1 fennel bulb (finely grated)
- 1 butternut squash (cut into 2 cm squares)
- 2 tbsp ground sumac
- 5 tbsp sesame seeds
- 1 tbsp dried thyme
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 20g hazelnuts (cut in half )
- 150g your choice of salad leaves
- Pumpkin Seeds / Hemp seeds / Sesame Seeds
For the Vinaigrette
- 6 tbsp good quality olive oil
- 2 tbsp white wine vinegar
- Pinch of salt and pepper
- 1 tbsp coriander seeds
- 4 tsp wildflower honey
- 1 tbsp parsley (finely chopped)
– Roasting the butternut squash. Because it will take around 30-40 minutes to cook (depending on how thick the slices/chunks are) we will start by prepping the squash so it has had time to cool down by the time we toss it in the salad. Preheat the oven to 200C.
Make the Za’atar rub, by combining the sumac, sesame seeds, dried thyme, salt and olive oil in a bowl. Peel and cut the butternut squash into bite-size pieces. Rub the Za’atar rub on the butternut squash making sure all pieces are well coated. Tip the pieces onto a baking tray and cook for 30-40 minutes. Once it’s done, take out of the oven and let it cool.
– To make the dressing. Add the olive oil, white wine vinegar, chopped parsley, salt, pepper, coriander seeds and wildflower honey (or regular honey) to a jar. Close the jar, making sure the lid is tightly closed and shake vigorously until everything is well combined. Set aside until it’s ready to be used. We made a variation of this vinaigrette for our Radicchio Rosa & Roasted Chickpea Salad.
– To make the salad. Before tossing all ingredients together to form a salad, you need to prep as much as possible. For this specific salad, we will be putting in a little bit more of love and care. We will begin by washing the cucumber and slicing it with a peeler, to get really fine and uniform slices of cucumber, which we will then roll into rosettes. Continue by chopping cherry tomatoes in half. Use a mandolin to cut the fennel finely and set it aside ready to be used.
– Select a serving platter and tip the leaves into it. If using more than one kind, make sure it’s all well mixed.
– Pick your seeds of choice and mix them together in a small bowl ready to be used.
– To make the cucumber/tomato rosettes, grab a long slice of cucumber and roll it on itself. Once you’ve done this, hold it tightly and place a cherry tomato inside. Place the rosette on the serving platter, over the leaves. Continue doing this until you run out of cucumber slices. Place the rest of the tomato halves around the platter and in between the leaves. You can also place the tomato half on the cucumber strip and roll the slice around the tomato.
– Add the butternut squash pieces to the salad, feel free to place some under the leaves so they slices are well distributed.
– Sprinkle half the seeds, add more if necessary, followed by the hazelnuts. Liberally add the dressing to the salad. Enjoy on its own or as a side salad.