Monday, 21 January 2013

How to Make a Vinaigrette and Other Salad Ideas

I always feel that Turkish salads would be just sooo much better if only they were mixed with a little dressing before serving.

like this one...

Don't get me wrong: I love all that freshness, all that greenery, the colour contrast of orange carrots, purple red cabbage, green cucumber and the like, but if there is no dressing - well, as TT himself says:  we're not  cows! It happens all the time in restaurants here, expensive ones, not so expensive ones: the waiter will bring along bottles of olive oil, lemon juice, balsamic and nowadays pomegranate molasses for you to choose from, and with a flourish will proceed to pour them according to your choice, over your salad.

a mountainous selection of all sorts of green stuff in Kadıköy, Istanbul

But we all know that all the ingredients of a good dressing have to be mixed together BEFORE they are poured/drizzled over the salad. You will never get the same effect if you add first olive oil, and then lemon juice, say, to a salad that to all intents and purposes looks absolutely fantastic presentation-wise. You just can't mix it properly.

this is my local guy's selection which he displays on the pavement
Be careful too: winter time ie now, is not the time for tomatoes even though you see them everywhere. Don't be tempted into making a gavurdağı salatası, for example, or a çoban salatası/shepherd's salad, both of which are based on lovely sun-ripened summer tomatoes. Now is the time for  all those bright green-leaved lettuces: my favourites are marul or cos lettuces, and roka/rocket. The parsley, dill, and other herbs are very attractive too.

how can you not buy?
All the local markets and manavs/greengrocers have huge displays of these and they are hard to resist. Not that one wants to.

 I do understand that a salad is not going to appeal very heavily if you are up to your ears in snow right now but here in Istanbul, we are having a sunny week with blue skies and temperatures around 14 degrees! Given that this is the fish season and you often find manavs alongside the fish stalls, salads are very common and are indeed a popular choice at this time of year. In a restaurant you should ask for mevsim salatası/seasonal salad.

At home our dressing of choice is a French vinaigrette. Don't forget I'm half-French so this is what my  mother, my numerous aunts and now all the cousins and my daughters make to dress their salads. What's more, everybody always remarks on this dressing here simply because it is unusual - it has a piquancy which offsets and adds taste admirably to just about any salad.

How to make a Vinaigrette

Mix it in a jam jar or other lidded container so that you can give it a good shake without making a mess

  • The secret ingredient is Dijon mustard and not the grainy sort either: here I am using acı or hot, or you can use the regular strength one.

hardal means mustard

  • Put one heaped tablespoon into a jar, add 8 tbsp virgin/sızma olive oil and 4 tbsp lemon juice. The proportions are always like this: 8:4, 10:5, 12:6 etc.

  • (NB in Turkey lemon juice is preferred to vinegar and I prefer it now myself). 

juicy lemons

  • Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, put the lid on and give the jar a good shake. All the ingredients will emulsify because of the olive oil. If you leave it, the contents will separate again.  

My mother used to make enough of this dressing for a week using a big jam jar and keep it on the kitchen windowsill!

This amount is more than enough for one salad. Don't use too much dressing as a soggy salad is never appealing: the leaves and other ingredients should be coated but not drenched. Never dress a salad in advance for the same reason. Make the dressing beforehand and prepare the leaves etc, then add at the last minute in the kitchen. I recommend tossing the salad in the kitchen too so as to avoid any disasters!

Other ideas to perk up your salads:

1. These days sunflower seeds are our favourite addition:

sunflower seeds
toast them in a small frying pan to bring out the flavour - no oil is necessary
Or how about:

  •  chopped walnuts or hazelnuts
  • garlic, crushed or sliced finely
  •  little squares of white cheese, slices of halloumi or hellim, that Cypriot cheese, or shaved strips of parmesan
  •  sun-dried tomatoes
  • little gherkins, sliced
  • black olives
  • corn
  • pomegranate seeds
Plus you can vary the way you prepare your salad material:

you can slice/chop/shave/shred or grate and the result will produce a different effect every time!

These are just some ideas to make your salads a little more interesting - the possibilities are endless!

Just one last tip: choose a relatively flat dish or platter for your finished salad - I think it makes any salad look more attractive than a deep salad bowl. And remember that wooden salad servers NEVER go in the dish washer!

Enjoy your salads!