In my long-ago youth, “salad” meant two or three lettuce leaves, a few slices of cucumber and a tomato. The addition of radishes and watercress rendered the dish positively festive. A few decades on, salads have become more interesting.
Featured in today’s dish are potato salad, kohl rabi slaw, Greek tomato and cucumber salad and a version of mushroom salad that allowed me to use up a few fine beans and mangetout peas.
Potato salad is a personal favourite and comes in many guises; the horseradish mayonnaise version features on today’s menu. Some varieties of spud fall apart in the cooking process, so choose good salad potatoes, scrub the skins and steam till perfectly cooked. You will also need one hard-boiled egg, fresh chives, a little olive oil, a jar of ready-made mayonnaise and a pot of horseradish sauce. If you have no chives, use the green part of a couple of spring onions. While the potatoes are still warm, cube them, add a spoonful of olive oil and a little salt, stir to coat the potatoes in the oil, make up a quantity of the mayonnaise, mixed with horseradish to taste and add chopped chives. Mix the potatoes and mayonnaise in a bowl, adding the chopped white of the boiled egg. Reserve the crumbled yolk and a few extra chives to sprinkle over the salad at the point of serving.
Kohl Rabi Slaw
Kohl rabi is a brassica and can be rather tough if it isn’t used when really fresh. If the skin seems tough, it will need to be peeled. Coarsely grate a couple of scrubbed carrots, finely slice or chop a shallot, grate the kohl rabi (again, use a coarse grater), mix everything well and add a liberal quantity of mayonnaise. I add a good squeeze of salad cream to the mayonnaise because that gives a slight vinegary bite.
Greek salad has long been a favourite for us. Essential ingredients are French dressing, feta cheese (the supermarket’s proprietary brand will do very well) some stoned olives, peeled crushed garlic and fresh garden herbs - traditionally, use marjoram or oregano, chives, and thyme, and cucumber and small to medium-sized tomatoes. Cut the tomatoes approximately into cubes, and about the same weight in cucumber, also cut into chunks. Mix the tomatoes and cucumber in a largish bowl with the dressing, olives and herbs. Use a large spoon to mix everything together, and in order not to mash the tomatoes, adopt a folding technique. Finally, add the cubed feta, and fold in, mixing for the least possible time.
Mushroom salad has a lovely earthy taste, and is best made with button mushrooms, not only because they keep their shape and consistency better than field mushrooms, but also because they contain less water. Mushroom and spinach salad is a delight, but having no spinach, I used fine beans and mangetout peas.
Steam or blanch the peas and beans for 3 or 4 minutes, so they remain firm to the bite but are not squeaky to the tooth, then cool quickly in running cold water. Wipe the mushrooms over with some damp kitchen paper, or a perfectly clean kitchen cloth, then set aside while making up French dressing.
French dressing is very much a matter of taste, in both senses of the phrase. I buy a good sunflower oil, or a best quality rapeseed oil, and one of the more expensive olive oils available on the supermarket shelves. You can make a good dressing without using olive oil, and then pour a slug of best olive oil into the mix. This gives it the proper olive tang, which is a vast improvement on the slightly bitter aftertaste of cheaper olive oil.
Slice the mushrooms into thickish slices, add salt, pepper and crushed or chopped garlic, then stir - again, using the folding technique and a large-headed spoon - then add the green vegetables and fresh garden herbs.
The mushroom salad, like the slaw and the potato salad, can be made in advance, as the mushrooms will soak up the dressing marinade, but won’t disintegrate, or become what the French term “cooked”, meaning soggy and limp. The Greek salad is best made at the last minute before serving.
Serve the salads with a hunk of crusty bread, to mop up the last vestiges of a tasty, healthy meal. Et bon appétit tout le monde!