The Modern Indian Salad

 

I get upset when I am served what I term a ‘90s salad’ in a restaurant.  Limp iceberg lettuce and a few slices of pale tomato, some sad looking cucumber and some creamy sweet dressing congealed on the leaves.

It looks sad and anaemic on the plate. 

You might have ordered it because you are trying to make a healthier, fresher choice- but are left feeling dissatisfied, hungry and not that great afterwards. 

These salads should be a thing of the past! Salads can be a medley of delicious, fresh ingredients, fragrant with herbs, tangy from a sharp dressing with a crunch from toasted nuts or seeds. They can be colourful, filling and nourishing. Friends should feel total food envy when our salad arrives!

When people come to my house for lunch, I think at first they are a bit disappointed when I announce that we are having some grilled fish and a couple of salads. But I've never known anyone not to feel full and satisfied after one of my proper, hearty salads.

My 7 step winning formula for a salad people will love:

Step 1. Pick 2 to 3 star vegetables. You can choose any vegetables, such as zucchini, capsicum, gobi, red pumpkin, brinjal, green peas. You want 1-2 cups of vegetables per person. 

Step 2. Select a protein. If you are non-veg, select from chicken, egg, prawns or pulled lamb. If you are veg, select from channa or another type of gram like horse gram (you want something that will hold its shape), or you could add tofu. Aim for 1/2 cup to a whole cup of protein per person.

Step 3: Pick a grain: millet, quinoa and sorghum work well here, as does red or brown rice. Grains absorb the dressing of salad so will ensure that every bite pops with flavour! As a rough guide, you need 1/2 cup of cooked grain per person.

Step 4. Pick one of the following to bring sweetness: pomegranate seeds, strips of mango, watermelon, diced apple, or caramelised seeds (mix honey and water in 1:1 ratio, add your preferred spices, and coat the seeds and then fry or bake them until golden brown). 

Step 5. Pick one of the following for crunch: toasted cashews, almonds, sunflower seeds or watermelon seeds. I like to coat the nuts in a spice mixture such as salt, chilli powder and turmeric and then roast or dry fry in a pan until golden brown.

Step 6. Pick your leaf. Iceberg lettuce (that very pale, watery lettuce) is not an option here, it is pointless and flavourless. Select from dark green, earthier leaves like palak, arugala (rocket) or methi leaves. Include mint and coriander leaves for a further hit of flavour.

Step 7. Pick your dressing ingredients- you need a cold-pressed oil (cold-pressed sunflower oil works well, or Extra Virgin Olive Oil - EVOO is the only imported ingredient you will ever find me mentioning), something sharp (either lemon juice or vinegar), salt, pepper, and a handful of chopped herbs like mint or coriander. You can crush some garlic (one clove is enough!). Tahini, almond butter or another nut butter can also be a great addition to thicken a salad dressing. For more of a South-east Asian dressing include soy sauce and freshly grated ginger. You want to prepare your dressing in a ratio of 3:1 oil: vinegar/lemon juice. The other ingredients you add according to your preference.  

If you include these 7 steps your salad will sing. The contrast of sweet, savoury and different textures will keep every bite interesting. It will redefine what most people think a salad is!

A few notes on the 7 steps:

  • A mixture of raw and cooked vegetables usually works really well. 
  • Try to group flavours that go together- for Mediterranean flavours vegetables like roasted capsicum, roasted zucchini and raw tomatoes go well with basil, mint, and garlic. For a South-East twist on a salad try pairing fried brinjal with raw crunchy vegetables like thinly sliced red cabbage, and carrots and flavours like ginger, soy sauce and sesame seeds. And for a salad, with strong Indian flavours, check out my recipe below! The flavours are so versatile. We can use Indian spices to give certain vegetables a kick, and pair with herbs like coriander. 
  • Roast, grill or sauté (fry lightly with cold-pressed oil) vegetables that need cooking, such as pumpkin, capsicum, sweet potato until they are cooked through and have golden brown edges (that caramelisation brings a contrast of textures and concentrates the flavours). Steam or boil vegetables such as green beans or peas and ensure they still have a crunch.
  • Cook your grain according to packet instructions with salt and the juice of one lemon in the water. Drain well and ensure you shake all the water out, continue to drain it.  You don’t want a soggy grain!
  • Intensify the flavour of your protein source.  Rub your chicken breast in turmeric, oil, lemon and salt and pepper then fry it in a pan, slice it and mix it through, or sauté some prawns with lime and coriander and place them on the top. If you are using an egg, soft boiling it (cook in boiling water for 7 minutes) and then peeling and slicing it into quarters and dotting these around works well.

The rest is all about the assembly.

First make a bed of your cooked grain in a big serving dish and pour over half of your dressing and toss together well. You want the dressing to absorb into the grain itself. Scatter the vegetables, protein and fruit you are using and mix well, then throw the green leaves on top. Finally, sprinkle over the crunchy nuts or seeds. Drizzle over the rest of dressing just before serving (this will keep your salad looking fresh and ensure the leaves don’t get wilted).

 

A Modern Indian Salad Recipe

The millet, gobi and methi salad

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This is an example of a salad which follows my 7 step formula above. The vegetable stars of this salad are the gobi and radish.  One is cooked to the point of caramelisation, whilst the raw radish, which we will chop into matchsticks, brings a bitter contrasting flavour and texture. This would make a wonderful light lunch, or a great side dish alongside a main course of slow-cooked mutton leg (recipe coming soon!).

 

Ingredients

1 gobi cut into florets

1 cup of soaked, cooked channa

1 tablespoon of cold-pressed sunflower oil.

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

1 mug foxtail millet, soaked for 12 hours and then cooked according to instructions (cook with the juice of one lemon and 1 teaspoon of salt)

3 tablespoons of pumpkin seeds

1 teaspoon jeera (cumin) powder

1 white radish, peeled/scraped and chopped into matchsticks

2 handful of mint leaves, (1 handful- chop finely, the other just tear gently)

2 handfuls of methi leaves (1 handful- chop finely, the other just leave whole)

3 tablespoons pomegranate seeds

Dressing

2 tablespoons cold-pressed sesame oil or sunflower oil.

Juice of one lemon

2 teaspoons of tahini (sesame paste. You can make this yourself if you have a high-speed blender- simply toast sesame seeds until golden and then blend into a paste. This will take up to 15 mins in a blender, you may need to keep stopping and scraping down the sides until it becomes a smooth creamy paste. Or you can buy a lovely one from Happy Healthy Me)

Handful of coriander leaves finely chopped or blended to a paste.

Pinch of salt and fresh black pepper or pepper powder.

How to make

1. Steam or boil the gobi until it is lightly cooked but still has a bite. We don’t want it to go mushy. Drain it and pat it dry. Then mix it together with the coriander seeds, the sunflower oil and ½ teaspoon of salt and pepper.

2. If you have a grill, arrange the cauliflower on a flat baking tray and place under the grill until the edges start to ‘catch’ and go a lovely brown colour. It is so hard to say how long this will take because everyone’s grill is so different. You are far better going by the colour- but it will probably be at least 10 minutes on each side.  If you don’t have a grill, lightly fry the gobi. Heat the cold pressed oil in a pan and add the gobi florets, allow each side to get a golden-brown colour before turning. Remove from the heat when both sides have a little colour (the whole thing does not need to be golden brown, we are not deep frying it! Just the edges).

3. Meanwhile, while the gobi is browning, make the jeera-spiced pumpkin seeds! In a bowl mix 1 tablespoon of water with the jeera powder and a pinch of salt and pepper to make a thin paste. Throw in the pumpkin seeds and toss it in the mixture until each seed is coated. Heat up a pan on the stove and when it is hot when you hover your hand over it, throw in the seeds. You want the seeds to start to puff up, and for the spice to smell fragrant, but not burnt. Depending on the heat of your flame, this could take between 2 and 5 minutes (as long as you got the pan hot before you put the seeds in, which is important)

4. Make the dressing. Put all the ingredients in cup or bowl and just whisk with a fork until evenly combined.

5. Now we just need to assemble this all together. Find a wide, shallow serving bowl. Start with the bed of millet, mix it with the cooked channa and toss through the finely chopped mint and methi leaves, and pour half of the dressing over the millet-channa bed and really mix well. Now you have a lovely herby, tangy base. Evenly distribute the golden cauliflower over the top and scatter the radish matchsticks, torn mint and methi leaves, pomegranate jewels over the top.  Finish with the roasted seeds and some more methi and coriander leaves. This is your chance to get creative and make it look really artful! The contrast of colours of the ingredients will look so inviting, try to arrange everything so the colours are evenly spread out. Drizzle over the remainder of the dressing at the last minute, and serve.

Let me know what you think! Tell me about the salads you devise based on the 7 step formula for a delicious salad, I would love to know what you create!

And what about my gobi, methi and mint salad? Did you find this easy to make? Did you like it? Any tips for me to improve the recipe? Please comment below, I would love to hear from you!

I am planning on posting lots more salad recipes that follow my winning 7 step formula in the future, subscribe below so you don’t miss out!