In my head a salad is Summer with all the ingredients beautifully warmed by sunshine. It is one of the most seasonal of all dishes. I love the textures and the combinations though and I can’t wait for the next fitful spark of British sunshine.
One of the things I love about Matt Feroze’s book “The Cheese and I” is that it doesn’t flinch in explaining just what an imprecise, instinctive art cheese preparation is. I didn’t realise just how much goes into it when the producer has made the cheese in the first place and passes it over to the fromagier. I certainly didn’t realise that cheese has a season too. He describes how the same manufacturer will produce a different product at different times of year.
This brings me on to my challenge. I do like a salad – even in the depths of winter. In summer it’s easy – the ingredients speak for themselves and the simplest tomato salad, with soft salad leaves and fragrant basil just comes to life on its own. Somehow everything salad-related in Britain is forced at this time of year.
I had some basil recently which was undoubtedly basil but it consisted of tough leaves with nowhere near the flavour or mouthfeel of its summer cousin. The tomatoes, certainly the larger varieties are tough, thick skinned beasts. I have found some quite nice Vittoria cherry tomatoes which smell like the real thing and have some nice tang to them. Salad leaves are more of a challenge. Everything feels like it has been treated to get the right amount of preservation.
But I still like salad…and so I tend to go for one of two strategies.
The first is to basically change the salad formula. Ignore the normal ingredients which just don’t work and try and find something which delivers the same sensations with different ingredients. This means taking tomatoes that are available and ‘sun-drying’ them to get a little more flavour or just omitting them from the lineup. I will happily replace lettuce with sprouting quinoa and use grated carrot more. I’ll use nuts and seeds to give the crunch and the dressings will feature warming flavours and maybe a little more sweetness.
The second approach is to go with the basic ingredients that are available and add a more seasonal main attraction. I love beetroot and now is a great time to put roasted beetroot when cooled alongside a sharp crumbly cheese in this case a local white stilton.
I should really wait until the summer and enjoy salads at their best but I can’t.