Until recently, the idea that anyone could “crave” salad seemed preposterous to me. Too many are inadequately seasoned, under-delicious, falling back on their health halos rather than their actual flavour. The salads I like barely count as such: they might be warm grain bowls that happen to be garnished with some token leaves, or members of the caprese family (where cheese is at least 30% of what’s on the plate), or even steak salads (drape meat across some greenery and that’s salad, baby).
But then quarantine came. And after weeks of barely moving and also eating my way through regular Neal’s Yard Dairy cheese shipments and kilos of pasta, I found myself lingering at the greengrocer’s kale stand. “My god – consume even a single vegetable,” my body begged.
I stand by the assertion that many, many salads suck, but I also have some reliable tips for making one that is actually craveable:
1. Season and dress it thoroughly. In my experience, this is where the majority of salads go wrong – like most food, salad leaves taste infinitely better when seasoned properly. I believe in the Via Carota method, whereby the salad is seasoned and dressed in layers, so that every last sprig is studded with salt and glistens with vinegar and olive oil.
2. Textural contrast is key. Virtually every salad is improved by crunch. I often gravitate to toasted pine nuts, sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds; here I’ve gone with roasted pecans, which are made even better with a light spice-and-brown-sugar glaze.
3. When in doubt, apply cheese. In this case I’ve opted for a luscious, lactic goat cheese, but you could use mozzarella, burrata, feta, your preferred blue cheese... the list goes on.
Another way to make your salad more delicious: serve it with a beer alongside. Though fruit sours are often relegated to the dessert category (they are delicious with chocolate cake, say, or vanilla panna cotta), many of them are actually a natural fit for peppery, zippy salads – particularly those that also feature fruit.
Pastore’s Raspberry Wild is a perfect example. An “Oud Bruin style ale conditioned two months in stainless steel, one month on raspberries”, as the bottle reads, the garnet-hued beer smells like late-summer raspberries and offers up a beautifully clean acidity. Here is a sour that doesn’t just pick up many of the salad’s ingredients – it echoes the ripe raspberries exactly and is complemented by the sweetly spiced nuts and the creamy goat cheese – but, thanks to its tartness, it almost serves as a component of the dish. Think of it as a garnish, or a secondary dressing.
Either way, class it as an essential ingredient and use that as your excuse to enjoy a beer with your lunch salad. Who said anything about a health halo?
Radicchio Salad with Goat Cheese, Raspberries and Roasted Pecans
For the roasted pecans:
125g pecan halves
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon ginger
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
15g (1 tablespoon) unsalted butter
1 packed tablespoon brown sugar
For the salad:
1 head Chioggia-style (round) radicchio, cored and chopped into roughly 1-inch pieces
200g baby spinach
100g mache/lamb’s lettuce, or other mild salad green
Large bunch basil
Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon
Freshly cracked black pepper
4 medium-sized, ripe tomatoes
250g soft, mild goat cheese, crumbled
For the dressing:
175ml extra-virgin olive oil
2 ½ tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 ½ teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 ½ teaspoons honey
1 tablespoon warm water
1 garlic clove, grated
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1. First, prepare the roasted pecans. Preheat your oven to 200° Celsius (400° Fahrenheit) and line a small baking tray with foil. When the oven is hot, place the pecans in an even layer and roast for roughly 8-10 minutes, taking the tray out to toss the nuts frequently, or until evenly golden brown. Meanwhile, mix together the spices and salt and pepper in a small bowl. In another bowl, add the butter and brown sugar. Microwave until just melted; stir to combine.
2. When the nuts have finished roasting, transfer to a medium bowl while still hot and pour over the butter and sugar mixture, and the spice mixture. Stir until evenly coated. Line your baking tray with parchment paper (which will stick less than the foil) and pour over the glazed nuts; spread in an even layer. Set aside and leave to cool.
3. Place the radicchio leaves in a bowl of cold water and leave to soak for roughly 20 minutes, which will help cut down on their bitterness. Drain and gently dry on layers of paper towels or in a salad spinner. Wash the spinach, the mache/lamb’s lettuce and the basil leaves well, and dry in the same manner.
4. Next, rinse the raspberries and set aside. Rinse and thinly slice the tomatoes. Lightly season the tomato slices with flaky sea salt and set aside.
5. Prepare your dressing. To a medium lidded jar, add the olive oil, vinegar, mustard, honey, water and garlic. Season with a generous pinch of sea salt and black pepper, seal and shake vigorously until the dressing is fully mixed and emulsified. (I find this is the fastest, least-messy way to make a nice emulsified dressing, though you can also accomplish the same with a bowl and a whisk.) Taste and add any additional seasoning if needed.
6. Build your salad. In a large salad bowl, add roughly ¼ of the radicchio, spinach, mache/lamb’s lettuce and basil leaves. Season to taste with flaky sea salt and black pepper, and pour over enough dressing to coat the leaves. Lightly toss. Continue in this manner, building the salad layer by layer to ensure that every leaf is seasoned and dressed.
7. Divide the dressed salad leaves between plates. Top each with the raspberries, tomato slices and roasted pecans, and toss lightly to mix. Garnish each with the crumbled goat cheese and serve immediately.
Claire M Bullen is a professional food and travel writer, a beerhound and an all-around lover of tasty things. Our award-winning first book with Claire, The Beer Lover’s Table: Seasonal Recipes and Modern Beer Pairings, is out now and available in all good book stores (and at HB&B). Follow her on Twitter at @clairembullen. Yet again demand for this beer exceeded supply, so we don’t have any Pastore Raspberry Wild available to purchase, alas. However , why not try other raspberry sours such as Boon’s classic Framboise or Lost & Grounded’s brand new Start This Record Over?