In the winter, when I'm desperate for flavour—robust, genuine, just past tart and blooming into sweetness sort of flavour—I try to find salads that can feed the almost desperate need for colour, vitamin c, contrast. People's imagination seems to tune off with the diminishing sunlight and suddenly iceberg lettuce with grilled flank steak and crumbled blue cheese is de rigeuer again, circa 1978.
But that won't do. Not for me, anyway. When I want a salad that tastes like something eaten at the counter of a fly ridden diner, I'll make a homemade coleslaw in a yogurt and horseradish dressing and pack it in a picnic basket and take an afternoon drive. Just for the heck of it. Food is like that. It moves you to impulse.
The lunches I take to work every day not only feed me but they make me happy. Look at that picture. How can you not take off the cover of your large glass tupperware container and not grin at the sight of the explosion of colour.
In many ways, I like to keep things complicatedly simple, if you know what I mean. Flavours—sweet, sour, salty, tart—should blend and merge almost magnetically, and definitely without effort. The bite of a red radish is the perfect foil to the occasional overly-saccharine sweetness of mango. When the flesh of the fruit releases itself gently under your thumb, eat it. Don't wait for it to soften too much because it will ultimately carbonate and taste rotten to your taste buds. In this salad, we've also got heat (radish) and sweet (mango; avocado could be added or substituted for the mango).
Now we need salt. Crumble a course cheese like feta or cube halloumi or smoked mozzarella and include. Sometimes I raise the sodium quotient another notch and add small Sicilian cracked green olives. I love them. They are small morsels and they are slightly bitter but they are ridiculously delightful. If you're not a fan of the olive, disregard and move on.
Now think of the robust raw vitality of parsley. Purchase the coarse Italian kind and chop it roughly. Grape tomatoes add more of that addictive tart/sugar factor but could easily be omitted and if they're rubbery, they're downright ruinous.
Garbanzo beans (white beans would be ok here too) add heft and protein. I've started cooking my own from dry and I will not go back to canned—too mushy, too tin-tasting. Instead of chickpeas, or in addition, you could try roasted sunflower seeds or raw pepitas. To get ridiculously wild, toss in some dried currants. The odd bite of sweetness will blow your mind.
Salad Dressing: Sometimes when I have a lot going on in a salad, see above, I go stealth-like with the dressing, something vague but alluring, subtle but distinctive. Balsamic vinegars are always a good match to fruit, they bounce off each other with mutually good vibrations. In this case, you don't want a ink stained look or an overly powerful kick so choose white balsamic. I drizzle it over the salad, then add some really good olive oil. Cracked black pepper is entirely optional, as are hot chile pepper flakes. I choose both. I love the heat kick punching down the fruit flavour leaving spice on the tongue. Delightful!