take one woman with low self esteem, but quite good hair
add one moronic illness
stir in some medication which causes hair to fall out
mix it all up and this is what you get...

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Salad days 

Jamie won't believe the can of worms she opened up by asking the simple question: "How do you feel about tomatoes in your salad?" I could spout endlessly on the subject of salads, and if you find yourself still reading this post in several years' time, covered in cobwebs, you'll know that I did.

I happen to think that we don't "do" salads very well in this country to the extent that one of my so-called "business ideas" would be a chain of salad bars. But I'm not here to talk about my half-arsed business ideas... for now.

Now, I lived in France, but I don't subscribe to the general view that France does everything better than Britain in the food stakes. For a start, they (mostly) use UHT milk. Yeuch. I'm not going to get into a general debate on this topic, because it would go on forever and make me very angry and defensive. Suffice it to say, I lived in the so-called "Capitale de la gastronomie" for a while, I ate a lot of food there, it wasn't all it was cracked up to be, despite what my French acquaintances would attempt to drum into me at every available opportunity.

But I'll concede that one of the things they do rather well is salads. "Les salades composées", which I guess would translate as "main course" or "prepared" salads. You can go to a common or garden bistro or brasserie and they will usually have numerous salads on offer - Niçoise, Lyonnaise, goat's cheese plus many more. Always simply dressed and seasoned, always presented in such a way that you can just tuck in without having to cut it, mix it or dress it, always served with a little basket of bread. Watch a group of French people eating a salad - they will all have a piece of bread clasped in one hand, like a little security blanket. But you didn't come here to learn about French quirks, there are people who do this much better than me...

Equally, when eating at people's homes, there would nearly always be a bowl of salad on the table as an integral part of the meal. Just leaves dressed with an oil, vinegar and mustard dressing.

So one of the things I brought back to Blighty (along with a 6'5" Frenchman and an inability to speak English properly, preferring a weird kind of "translated French", an affliction from which I took a few months to recover) was the salad "thing". I have a side salad with most meals, not least as a way of ensuring that I consume a healthy amount of vegetables. I'm not really a "meat and two veg" girl. I like vegetables to be integral to what I cook rather than boiled or steamed and served separately, but to boost my intake and provide a different texture to a meal, I serve a side salad. When I say side salad, I rarely mean anything more than a selection of leaves, cut, dressed and seasoned. I don't *need* anything more than that.

If I'm having a "main course salad", of course, other ingredients come into play - which brings us back to tomatoes (or as Jamie would say: tomatoes... oh hang on, that doesn't work unless you say it out loud...). A Niçoise salad requires tomatoes, for example. But, for me, the tomatoes *must* be sliced thinly, or at least quartered but usually "eighthed". Unless they're cherry tomatoes. I don't want to have to do battle with a half inch thick slice of beef tomato with no dressing or seasoning. I cannot eat a tomato like I would eat an apple, not even a cherry tomato.

Sometimes I'll take the tomato and just manually squeeze out the water and seeds over the sink before slicing it thinly. (This is actually quite a therapeutic activity, particularly if you think about someone you dislike whilst doing it). This is how I would prepare the tomatoes for, say, a tabbouleh or an indian style tomato, cucumber and onion chutney.

The answer to Jamie's original question, then, would be: if tomato "belongs" in the salad, it will be there. And only I decide whether or not it "belongs" in any salad I prepare or am served. Let that be an end to it.

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