A traditional salad

For traditional human carnivores, a salad is good to look at but nothing to eat. To shatter this illusion, here is a salad to add goodness and taste to your next braai.

Salad is not just a pile of lettuce leaves
Photo: Dylan Swart

To make this salad and its dressing for four, you will need:

  • 2 slices of toast (not a misprint) • 1 butter lettuce
  • Some leaves from a frilly lettuce • 14 cherry tomatoes 
  • 1 small onion or a shallot • 4 spring onions 
  • 2 Israeli or, if you prefer, Palestinian cucumbers. 

Alternatively, 1 English cucumber

  • 70g strong cheddar cheese • 1 tablespoon of capers
  • 7 fresh basil leaves • 2 pickled jalapeno chillies

For the dressing:

  • 40ml extra virgin olive oil • 20ml balsamic vinegar
  • 1 clove of garlic • 5ml coarse Dijon-style mustard 
  • 5ml honey or brown sugar

Let’s begin with the dressing, as some standing time allows the various flavours to infuse and mingle. The big deal here is the vinegar. Ideally, in this recipe, it serves to add acid and bite to the otherwise benign contents of the salad bowl. Balsamic vinegar adds considerably to the flavour and aroma of the dressing, while honey contributes greater complexity than sugar. The garlic clove should be lightly crushed and peeled, but left whole.

Place all the ingredients in a clean screw-top bottle and shake it all vigorously for a minute or two. The more intense the shaking, the better the emulsion that will form as the oil and vinegar combine. Now for the raw stuff. Rinse and spin-dry the lettuce leaves. You may wish to hand-rip them into smaller pieces as some television chefs would like you to do. Take care to remove as much of the water as possible to avoid excessive dilution.

Halve, or even quarter, most of the little tomatoes; this releases juice into the general mix. Leave a few whole for dramatic effect. If you’re using caper berries, cut these in half; if the capers are those tiny, bud-sized chaps, leave them whole. Coarsely chop the basil leaves. Time for some cucumber theory. I prefer Israeli cucumbers, which have great crunch and a genuine flavour. English cucumbers, however, make an adequate substitute.

Cut the cucumbers of your choice into either of two formations: thin slices or 10mm x 10mm chunks. Next comes the small onion. Peel and chop this very, very fine. Chop the spring onions into 5mm sections. Dice the cheddar cheese or alternatively cut it into match sticks. The pickled jalapeno chillies are optional, but if you like a bit of mild heat and added complexity, they are the way to go. Chop them into 5mm sections.

Combine all these ingredients in a large salad bowl of your choice, taking care to distribute the various components evenly. Cut the toast into thin strips and arrange them around the sides of the bowl. Give the salad dressing bottle another energetic shake for a minute or so, then remove and discard the used-up garlic clove and pour the thick brown emulsion over the salad.

A little coarse black pepper ground over the entire arrangement finishes it off with another layer of flavour.

Enjoy, and of course, feel free to improvise with the ingredients.