You can tell, just by making the restaurant rounds these days, that salads make up 80% of the lunch trade, if not more.
Why? Because salads are fast, health-conscious and light.
Because they can, if you are lucky, be beautiful to look at and a great taste experience too.
So we have selected the types of salads that qualify on all counts. Beautiful to look at, tasty, healthful and light.
The fruit salad pictured here came to us by way of chef Anton Mosimann of the Dorchester Hotel in London during our last visit in December.
At the time, Mosimann was introducing his new "Cuisine Naturelle," which had its grounding in nouvelle cuisine. Mosimann is a master chef trained in classical French cooking gone nouvelle. He is considered one of the leaders of the nouvelle movement outside of France and one of the great chefs of Britain.
The fruit terrine was served to a group of journalists who were invited to the unveiling of Mosimann's new cuisine. I happened to call Mosimann for an interview and was invited to join the group. The terrine was actually served as a dessert (yes, it can double as dessert whenever you wish), but is flexible enough to be transformed into a salad with a simple switch of accompaniments--using lettuce as a bed for the terrine instead of raspberry sauce, and serving a dressing with it.
The terrine, he said, was a modification of the new layered vegetable terrines associated with nouvelle cuisine , which are still going strong wherever nouvelle food is served. But instead of vegetables, he used seasonal fruit. And, instead of aspic as the gelling agent, he used fruit-flavored gelatin (white grape juice). His terrine was made with oranges and raspberries because it happened to be wintertime, but you can use any summery fruit you happen to have on hand.
The terrine is not only beautiful to look at and terrific to taste, but healthful, in a spare way. You can round out the menu if you use it as an accompaniment to some protein food, such as some excellent Brie, Camembert, goat cheese or whatever semisoft cheese you want, with a few crisp crackers or rolls.
The construction of the fruit terrine will take a bit of time because you will have to wait until the gelatin (added to each layer of fruit to seal it) firms up before adding other layers. But it's well worth the effort if you are entertaining or want to dazzle friends. "However did you do that?" they will ask. Actually, it's quite easy.
The other salads are a dramatic departure from Mosimann's airy fruit creation. The remaining recipes are main-dish salads using greens and some kind of protein food, such as pork, tuna or cheese. All you need to do to round out the menu is to add some bread and fruit, if not already in the dish.
The idea of using grilled meats on salads is not new, but it is a relatively new practice among young chefs who have been taken by things Californian--by way of the South of France. California weather, so conducive to barbecue cookery year-round, makes these types of salads ideal for summery outdoor-indoor entertaining or family meals.
For one salad, we used pork tenderloin, which is often sold vacuum-packed in many supermarkets and has absolutely no waste at all. Pork tenderloin is easy to grill, and the meat is exceptionally tender, so it requires a cooking time almost equivalent to that of a fillet of beef. Once cool, the roast slices easily and in uniform medallions.
Another idea stolen from chefs around town is use of fresh tuna as carpaccio (raw, seasoned meat) , which, in Italy, is generally made with paper-thin slices of beef or veal. The tuna is marinated in extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar with garlic and seasoning. This treatment of fresh fish is similar to that of ceviche, which, in effect, both seasons and tenderizes the raw fish to make it palatable without cooking. You can use veal or beef as an alternative to tuna, as well.
Sitting at the counter at La Cucina on Melrose Avenue one day when Claudio Marchesan of Prego was filling in for the vacationing executive chef Celestino Drago, Marchesan mentioned a first-course salad that he had heard was being served among the elite in Rome. It was a julienne vegetable salad using the three colors of Italy--red, white and green: zucchini, celery and beets.
The paper-thin shaving of vegetables are heaped in three airy mounds and topped with complementary ingredients such as Parmesan cheese, prosciutto and feta cheese.
If you have a vegetable slicer to cut the vegetables paper-thin, all the better. Otherwise, use a sharp knife to slice the vegetables as thinly as possible. They should look like fluffy clouds on the plate.
The last recipe was inspired by a dish we had at Jeremiah Tower's restaurant in San Francisco, called Stars.