“Salad got a bad rap. People think of bland and watery iceberg lettuce, but in fact, salads are an art form, from the simplest rendition to a colourful kitchen-sink approach.” - Marcus Samuelsson.
I must confess
I am not a great aficionado of the traditional garden salad. The thought of a bowl of lettuce, tomato, olives and feta cheese with a vinaigrette dressing doesn’t exactly blow my hair back. Having said that, I must add, in my defence, that there
are a number of other salads that do get me excited. My mother’s potato salad is one. Peri peri chicken is not the finished article without coleslaw, and I am very fond of Caesar Salad and Salade Niçoise as well. Still - as much as I
appreciate the need to consume a daily ration of roughage, specifically salad greens and crisp vegetables - there are certain damp and blustery days when the idea of a chilled, crunchy salad is about as tempting as root canal work.
Warm salads are a
different matter altogether. They allow us to ingest much-needed greens and other vegetables in a hearty, savoury guise, and make ideal light lunches on their own or substantial accompaniments to a main course at dinner. An added bonus is that they provide
an outlet for leftovers. Any kind of leftover meat, whether turkey, steak, lamb or chicken, can be turned into a savoury warm salad by sautéing it in butter or bacon fat and adding it to a salad with a warm dressing. The secret to making appetising,
attractive warm salads is using varying textures and colours; like combining white endive, vibrant red radicchio and green Cos lettuce, and then laying over them thin strips of warm lamb, steak, duck or chicken.
Unsurprisingly, the masters of the warm
salad are North Europeans. In the Low Countries, Northern France and the Baltic states of Germany winters are bitterly cold, and where even in summer the sun can be a skittish visitor. Some of the classic warm salads include hot German potato salad with bacon,
French duck breast or gizzard salad, Belgian Salade Liegeoise (sliced potatoes, green beans, bacon, onions, parsley and a bacon fat vinaigrette) and frisée aux lardons (curly endive tossed with bacon, garlic croutons and a bacon-fat
The recipe below might come as a surprise to many of you, as the pride of place does not go to a meat but to the oyster mushroom. To me, properly cooked mushrooms are as appetising as rare duck breast or a juicy steak. Try this one out;
it is technically not vegetarian, but it is so tasty and aesthetically pleasing that even vegans might be tempted…
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 90 minutes
Tastes best accompanied by a
medium-bodied Pinotage or Cinsaut
500g Mixed wild mushrooms (or cultivated exotics) like oyster, enoki and shiitake, thick stems discarded and caps thickly sliced
250g Thickly sliced bacon, cut crosswise into 10mm strips
Sturdy baby greens, such as rocket, mustard green or spinach
75g Cold goat’s cheese or feta, crumbled
1 Large leek - only the white and tender green parts, thinly sliced
1 Garlic bulb, cloves crushed but not peeled
Cup pecan nuts
½ Cup cider vinegar
½ Cup olive oil
½ Cup canola or sunflower oil
1 Tsp. molasses
1 Tsp. lemon juice
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste
your oven to 180⁰C.
- Bring both the oils to a simmer in a saucepan, then add the garlic.
- Cook over low heat until fragrant, 15 minutes.
- Strain the oil and discard the garlic.
- Toss the mushrooms with 6 tablespoons of the garlic
oil in a large bowl and season with salt and pepper. (Reserve the remaining garlic oil for later use.)
- Spread the mushrooms out on a baking tray and roast for 35 minutes, stirring once or twice, until crisp and golden.
- Spread the pecans in
a pie plate and toast for 7 minutes, until fragrant. Allow them to cool.
- Cook the bacon in a large frying pan over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until crisp, about 8 minutes.
- Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined
- Strain the fat into a heatproof bowl and return half of it to the frying pan.
- Add the leek and cook over moderately low heat until softened, about 6 minutes.
- Add the vinegar and simmer until reduced to 3 tablespoons, about
- Remove from the heat and whisk in the molasses, lemon juice and the remaining bacon fat.
- Toss the greens with the vinaigrette, mushrooms and pecans in a large bowl.
- Season with salt and pepper and toss again.
with the bacon and goat’s cheese and serve.
“People aren't either wicked or noble. They're like chef's salads, with good things and bad things chopped and mixed together in a vinaigrette of confusion and conflict.”
– Lemony Snicket.