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Salad days are here



THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Salads are in fashion. That’s correct, you read it right. That dish, usually served as a meal accompaniment, is fast becoming the star of the dining table with restaurants pulling all stops to ensure that salads are served bold and beautiful. And toppings such as spicy nuts, toasted sprouts, crisp croutons and home-made honey-mustard blends are just a few of the complements the chefs are using to liven up the greens.

Earlier, not so long ago, when one mentioned salads, images of the raita salad served with biriyanis and the green salad comprising raw vegetables marinated with a dash of salt and pepper with perhaps a squeeze of lime were what popped in one’s mind. In fact, salads were not so varied, easily available or popular. A salad bar that started in the city in the late 90s had to close shop as it was ahead of its time. The so-called lah-di-dah restaurants then served mostly Russian salad, Green vegetable salad and Caesar salad.

Vegetable salad at The Juice Barrel

Vegetable salad at The Juice Barrel   | Photo Credit: Liza George

“At present, salads are no longer an unimaginative bowl of unappetising-looking greens. In fact, salads these days pack a punch in terms of flavours and colours,” says Jose Thomas, executive chef at Vivanta by Taj, Thycaud.

If a bowl of fresh lettuce leaves, tomatoes, cucumber, carrots, sweet corn, pickles, olives, apples and walnuts is perfect for the blistering summer, a plateful of lettuce leaves, the season’s vegetables and slices of crisp bacon is for the cold monsoon nights. An extremely versatile dish, you can pretty much toss whatever you want in them and call it a meal. One can play around with a host of ingredients to create bowlfuls to suit every palette.

Preparing one’s own salad

At The Leela Kovalam’s Terrace restaurant, diners are encouraged to make their own salad. “Instead of serving ready-made salads as part of our buffet lunch or dinner, we encourage our diners to create their own. This is because the vegetables tend to wilt and loose its freshness when mixed with the dressing. Instead, fresh, roughly chopped, diced, sliced, cubed and julienned vegetables are placed in bowls,” says Dinesh Lal, executive sous chef at The Leela Kovalam.

One can team their favourite vegetables with fruits, herbs, spices or even pasta and combine it with the dressings available at the counter. As for the different cuts in the vegetables, not only do they add a different texture to the dish, but the various shapes also liven it up.

Grilled chicken salad at Kaffeehaus

Grilled chicken salad at Kaffeehaus   | Photo Credit: Liza George

However, Mini Mary Prakash, chief dietician of PRS Hospital, points out how many still consider salads as rabbit food. “For a balanced diet, one needs one fourth of rice, half a portion of vegetables and one fourth of pulses, fish or chicken on the plate. Unfortunately, many tend to skimp on vegetables in their diet. Salads are flexible and can be satisfyingly complete meals. They can be easily customised to individual dietary requirements,” she says.

The popularity of salads could be due to people turning more health-conscious these days. Mohammed Anaz of The Juice Barrel says while most of his customers are gym-goers who grab a salad as their meal, they have youngsters and families ordering salads too. “We have just two salads on our menu right now, a vegetarian and non-vegetarian salad served with a light yoghurt sauce as dressing. We plan to add more salads to the menu as both of the current varieties are doing really well,” says Anaz.

A great salad has to have something to really sink your fork into; it should have the freshest ingredients possible and have several ingredients that marry well so that every last bite has that uniqueness to it. Interesting and unique dressings and adequate seasoning should also be part of the perfect salad offering.

Says restaurateur Nimmy Rolythan of Kaffeehaus: “When we first introduced salads to the menu, we used simple vinaigrette dressings. Our customers, however, did not seem to enjoy them. And while mayonnaise is still a classic, diners are gradually shifting to lighter dressings like olive oil and vinegar and even masala-laced yoghurt.”

Easy availability

Another reason why salads are gaining popularity is that many ingredients are easily available these days. With a wide range of vegetables and bottled dressings such as Classic ranch dressing, Italian and French ones etc, reaching the market, fixing a salad has become as easy as pie. Green smoothies, a blend of vegetables with, at times, fruits, are ‘in’ too.

Quail egg salad at Kaffeehaus

Quail egg salad at Kaffeehaus   | Photo Credit: Liza George

Mini says salads are a cool and refreshing way to beat the heat. “Vegetables such as cucumber, tomato, carrot and pumpkin have high water content and are not only rich in nutrients but can also help prevent dehydration in this weather. Have sliced tomatoes, cucumbers and carrots with a dash of lemon, salt and pepper. Make it colourful, as each colour denotes a vitamin. Avoid using too many additives and ingredients, as it may hinder the absorption of nutrients. Use micro greens, which can be easily grown in your kitchen garden. Add fruits and a bit of grilled meat or fish and you are adding flavour and variety to your salads — no more boring meals,” she says.

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