The post first appeared in dawn where it was titled ‘the simplicity of salads’.
If rightly prepared, no meal can be as wholesome as a salad. It is the simplest of dishes, yet a poor dressing can completely ruin the taste, crunch and freshness of a salad. A couple of months back my daughter and I had opted for a 15-day raw vegan diet, and it was during this period that I realised how salads could be ‘the meal’ instead of just a plateful of sliced raw vegetables, sprinkled with salt and pepper, that people pick on and then move onto the next course of the meal. I found that salads could be fun and healthy if only we give it a little variation in terms of dressing and presentation. The dressing can be just salt and pepper with a squeeze of lime as we do on most days, but that can get monotonous. Try varying the flavours or the dressing and adding some nuts or dried fruits and you will find that it can transform into the most interesting dish on the table, apart from keeping that waistline intact.
I have a repertoire of dressings I play with, my favourite being Italian inspired Asian salads. I also like to mix in slivers of soft dates or carrots or halved raisins to introduce mild sweetness.
Recipe: Cabbage, thyme and peanut salad
Serves: 2 persons
Cabbage – About 3 cups, thinly shredded
Carrots – 2 tbsps., finely chopped/shredded
Roasted peanuts – 3 tbsps. (more if you like it), crushed roughly with a rolling pin
Fresh thyme, picked from leaves – 2tbsp. or dried thyme – 1 tsp. (Optional)
White vinegar – 1/2 tsp. or ½ a lemon, freshly squeezed
Extra virgin olive oil – 1 tbsp.
Black pepper, coarsely crushed – As per taste
Rock salt or Himalayan salt or pink salt (saindhav namak) – To taste
In a wide bowl mix the cabbage and carrots together. Add some of the vinegar / lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Set aside.
Meanwhile whisk the oil, rest of the vinegar or lemon juice, salt, pepper and thyme together till the emulsion is blended.
Mix the peanuts and the cabbage-carrot mixture. Add the dressing and toss well. Taste and adjust seasoning. If the salad tastes sour, tone it down by adding about half a teaspoon of oil. Serve immediately. Kept too long, the cabbage will lose its firm texture.
You can add broken walnuts, whole roasted and skinned pine nuts (chilgoze) or toasted almonds, coarsely crushed instead of crushed peanuts. For those who are allergic to nuts, crushed ‘dalia’ (popped bengal gram used to make chutney) makes a tasty substitute. A teaspoon of slivered dates or chopped raisins makes a nice addition too. Thyme can be substituted by your favourite herbs such as coriander, parsley or oregano. If you have a spicy tooth, add flaked chillies to the oil and vinegar emulsion while blending.
Before serving make sure that the salad is tossed well so that the dressing is evenly distributed.
We have since found that my daughter is allergic to peanuts. I use pecans or pine nuts now for crunch.