When it comes to salad, I’m not very adventurous. Silly, really, since I take one for lunch almost every day. In the rush to get off to work in the morning, I throw a few typical salad ingredients in a container, add a can of tuna and hope for the best.
My staple salad items are always some form of leafy green (like baby spinach), cherry tomatoes (no chopping needed), cucumber, and maybe some grated carrot. Occasionally, I throw in leftover roasted vegetables or crumbled fetta, but most of the time it ends up pretty bare bones.
There is definitely a time and a place for the humble green salad, but, by the time it gets to Thursday and I find myself yet again munching on unseasoned spinach at my desk while looking over a spreadsheet, I can’t help thinking there must be more to life. There is no chance of the spreadsheet getting any less boring, so I figure my only hope is to make my salad more exciting. This past month, I've consciously ordered a salad every time I eat out and let me tell you, there is a whole world of flavours out there. So here it is! My month of mouthwatering salads (and recipes so you can make them at home).
My mum and I signed up for Maeve O’Meara’s Vietnamese Gourmet Safari
, which explores Cabramatta (about 40km South West of Sydney’s CBD). Cabramatta is such a vibrant suburb full of colours, flavours and aromas – I really did feel as though I'd been teleported to Vietnam for the day. The first restaurant we visited served gỏi ngó sen tôm thịt
, or lotus stem salad. Lotus stems have a similar texture to blanched asparagus stalks and are creamy white in colour. Tossed with fresh herbs, julienned carrot, sliced pork and tiny unshelled prawns, this salad characterises the use of textures and flavours in Vietnamese food.
Our guide, Peter, explained that the Vietnamese like to eat the shells of crustaceans for their calcium content, as dairy isn't featured in the Vietnamese diet.
I love visiting House Restaurant in Sydney’s Surry Hills for its ultra spicy salads hailing from the Isaan region of Northern Thailand. Normally at Thai restaurants, I ask for "extra hot", but even the most ardent chilli lover would regret such a request here. I enjoyed the yum moo yor
– a salad of steamed fermented pork roll, fresh herbs and lots of chilli, and the som tum pu pla raa
– a salad of green papaya, salted crab, fermented fish, garlic, lime and chilli (together with a glass of ice-cold white wine from the connecting pub). Not a bad way to spend a sunny spring afternoon!
This salad is a lifesaver when you’re running late for a barbecue and need something to take along. In fact, it's so simple that it's easy to pick up the ingredients on the way and assemble the salad on arrival. As the name suggests, the Caprese salad comes from the Italian island of Capri. It is sometimes called insalata tricolore
, or three-coloured salad, as it represents the colours of the Italian flag. Any Italian will tell you that the difference between a good Caprese and a perfect Caprese is the ingredients. For best results, use deeply ripe tomatoes that are full of flavour, fresh Ligurian-style basil and milky white mozzarella. Good quality bocconcini or fiore di latte
is fine, but the ultimate is undoubtedly buffalo mozzarella. There are a number of variations out there – pesto instead of basil, the addition of anchovies, etc. but purists stick to the original ingredients.
Middle Eastern flavours are perfect for spicing up an otherwise plain salad. Chef and owner of Sydney institution Café Mint
has the art well and truly mastered and serves up traditional salads like fattoush, as well as modern Australian variations. Two of my favourite things on the menu are za’alook
– a dense eggplant and goat's cheese salad, and the deliciously fragrant warm salad of chickpeas with spinach, pumpkin and dates. Recreate them at home with the recipes (above) from Café Mint’s chef-owner, Hugh Foster.
In my opinion, one of the best things about food in Australia is that anything goes. The beauty of being a relatively new country is that we are not afraid to put different flavours together; we don’t have unspoken culinary rules and regulations that hang over our heads in the kitchen. Instead, Australian cooks have the ability (and openness of mind) to pick and choose from techniques and flavours from all over the world.
Someone who's not afraid of trying new things is Warren Mendes. Having worked in the corporate world for the past six years, passionate cook Mendes has decided to do what many only dream of – swapping his suit and tie for an apron and chef’s hat.
I was lucky enough squeeze in a meal at his house before he begins the notoriously demanding Diplôme de Cuisine course with Le Cordon Bleu
and couldn’t resist sharing this salad that he served for entrée – fresh crab meat, a hint of coriander, a dab of mayonnaise and avocado, all topped artfully with chives and salmon roe.