Crunch, fragrance, flavour, colour and texture…on a scorching hot day on Lanzarote, the perfect summer salad should involve all five of our senses.
Presentation is all-important for a summer dish that’s best served in bright daylight. Yes, green is fantastic, but never forget that there are wide range of greens, from deep spinach to pale avocado. Then there are red leaves, red, white and green onions, vivid glossy peppers in red, green and yellow, crimson tomatoes, brilliant white cheeses, even peppery blue nasturtium blooms.
Presentation is slightly different in Spain, however, where leaves are generally chopped rather than served whole, and dressings are often left to the diner, who is supplied with oil and vinegar at the table.
Surprisingly, our taste buds don’t do too much of the work when we’re enjoying a salad, but all five of the basic tastes that they detect need to be taken into account. Salty tastes are provided by crushed Lanzarote sea salt or delicate flakes of flor de sal , while other salty ingredients such as anchovies, Feta cheese, soy sauce, olives and capers can also add savour. Leaves such as endives, raddichio or rocket add bitterness, a flavour that many find deeply refreshing on a hot day; while sourness is provided by lemon juice, various vinegars, pickles or even dairy products such as yoghurt.
Sweetness is underrated in salads, but devastating examples include the teaming of pears with stilton, apple with nuts, orange with fennel, melon with jamón, or the mild sweet flavour of queso fresco and fresh, ripe Lanzarote tomatoes.
Finally, there’s the savoury umami flavour, provided in spades by parmesan shavings, blue cheese, anchovies, tuna, sun-dried tomatoes and seaweed.
Aromatics are found in all salads, and they range from powerful, heady and evocative fragrances such as basil, rosemary and garlic to much milder fragarances that are only fully detected on the palate. Look for fennel bulbs (hinojo) for a unique aniseed flavour and watercress (berros) for a peppery tang.
Fragrance is also associated with cheese, sesame seeds and meaty morsels of chicken and bacon.
Hearing plays a part in your salad, too, mainly with that deliciously audible crunch that comes from truly fresh ingredients The crisp, tasty romaine lettuces known locally as “donkey’s ear” are a great start for any lettuce based salad, but real crunch can be provided by icebergs, fennel, celery, raw carrots and nuts.
A good salad will contrast textures, from the soft, limp leaves of spinach and rocket to hard, crunchy nuts, crumbly cheese, flaky fish, and soft boiled egg. Don’t ever make the mistake of thinking that salads have to be served cold, either. While some are best chilled, others should be served at room temperature, while some are best when warm.
Bright Salad Ideas:
The following tried and tested salad ideas appeal to all the five senses and make a perfect summer lunch.
• Rocket; chopped toasted walnuts and pomegranate seeds.
• Charred broccoli with toasted almonds and chilli.
• Chickpeas with tuna, red onion, chopped pepper, lemon juice and olives.
• Warm lentils with orange slices and fennel.
• Bean sprouts with spring onion, grated ginger and soy.
• Ripe Lanzarote tomatoes and queso fresco, dressed with olive oil, garlic, basil and sea salt.
• Beetroot and feta cheese with lemon juice and toasted pumpkin seeds.