Posted by Craig Lennox on 4. May 2009
For people who aren't that into cooking, salads can be a great way to be creative in the kitchen, eat healthy and enjoy what you prepare without worrying that you might burn or overcook your efforts. In addition, working long hours all the time reduces the amount of time you have for cooking and preparing food. Quick, tasty salads are a way to combat this. Salads are also fun due to their many ingredients, as well as the wealth of available dressings can be changed depending on your tastes or mood. But the best thing about salads is that they are quick, easy to prepare and they look and taste fantastic. New salad ingredients are always emerging as chefs continue to push the boundaries of their creations to both impress and surprise. And as Beijing continues to expand as an international city with more and more access to ingredients from all over the world, it's becoming easier for people to create delicious meals at home. Salads are all too often overlooked or forced into being a simple starter or an accompaniment to main meal when realistically they are more than sufficient on their own. People just need to give salads a chance; they need to learn what flavors and textures they like together and then make salads that they will enjoy. It's a trial and error process. I often make salads in a large bowl that can be positioned in the middle of the table for everyone to share, or for me to eat on my own. Presentation time for salads is zero, for I simply throw everything into a huge bowl, mix it all together, sprinkle over the dressing and seasonings and then serve it up. It's effortless! Let's get started: Begin by washing a selection of leafy greens. Some of my personal favorites include Chinese leaves, iceberg lettuce, rocket, spinach and cabbage. The selection of leafy greens at the wet markets and supermarkets in Beijing are endless and they are very cheap. I spend a lot of time at my local wet market buying lots of fresh ingredients to enjoy in my salads. If the leaves are large, I use my hands to roughly tear them into smaller pieces and then put them in my bowl. Next, prepare various sliced raw vegetables, including, but not limited to, carrots, red and yellow bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, celery, bean sprouts and lotus root. My personal selection depends on my mood, the season and also the color of the vegetables. Throw them on top of the leafy greens already in your bowl. To add flavor, take some fresh herbs (including parsley, coriander, chives, spring onions, sliced ginger and garlic or chili peppers) wash and chop them and place them inside the bowl. Although these ingredients alone will make a great salad, read on if you're feeling adventurous. Beans and pulses such as kidney beans, chickpeas and lentils are also great in salads. In addition to being brightly-colored, they also add protein to any diet. Tofu comes in numerous forms: dried, fried, smoked and silken. All are cheap and readily available in Beijing, and each type will add its own uniqueness to your salad. Various marinated and grilled meats or seafood are excellent ways of turning small salads into filling meals, adding texture, flavor and warm ingredients. Nuts and dried fruits filled with nutrients add great flavors to any salad. Raisins, dried banana, dried figs and apple or pear slices, fresh or dried are great in salads and pine nuts, pistachios, walnuts and regular peanuts add some serious crunch and flavor to salads. Croutons (small cubes of fried bread) are also common, for they add intense flavors and texture. Seeds such as pumpkin, flax, sesame and sunflower are also good for adding texture, flavor and nutrients. For me, what makes a salad special is the dressing. There are millions of recipes online for salad dressings that suit all diets and preferences. There is nothing I enjoy more than decent olive oil and balsamic vinegar sprinkled over my salad alongside sea salt and cracked black pepper. I have included two recipes below for some simple salad dressings that I enjoy on a regular basis. Cool Cucumber Salad Dressing 1/2 cucumber, peeled 3/4 cup plain yogurt a handful of fresh mint leaves 1/2 tsp lemon juice 3 ice cubes Wash the mint leaves gently and then put all ingredients together into a blender and whizz together until smooth. Pour over your salad and enjoy. Orange Sesame Vegan Salad Dressing Recipe 1 tbsp sesame seeds, 2 tbsp rice vinegar 1 tbsp orange juice(fresh or from carton is fine) 1 tbsp water. Heat a pan over the hob and toast the sesame seeds. Pour them into a mortar and crush with a pestle. In a bowl mix all of the ingredients together and then simply pour over your salad. Sweet Ginger Salad Dressing 3/4 cup plain yogurt 2 tbsp honey 1 1/2 tsp fresh grated ginger Place all the ingredients together in a bowl and whisk until smooth. Pour over your salad and enjoy. All that's left is for me to say, have a go and enjoy! Photo courtesy of flickr.com
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