Tell me, did you think of tabouli first? Or the ever present but delicious tomato, mozzarella and basil plate? The world of herb salads is much larger. The flavors are bright and unique, and your imagination is the only limit.
Herbs are a great options nutritionally– they as “leafy green vegetables”– and have the nutrient profile better than most lettuce. Parsley, for example, is competes with kale in the number the wonderful compounds per bite. Some herbs definitely also have additional helpful antioxidants (oregano comes to mind), which is how herbal medicine likely emerged. We’ll come back to handy herbal solutions in a later post; now back to salads.
What makes a good herb salad? Well, start with half herbs, and then add other vegetables and flavor elements like… olives, cheeses, croutons, nuts, beans/meats, or dried fruits. Try to achieve a balance of 1) flavors; 2) texture; 3) appearance. Spicy, sour, sweet, bitter, and salty need to be balanced into a pleasing blend. Spicy is typically from pepper, chillis, arugula, watercress, nasturtiums, chives or other alliums. Sour is most often present in the dressing– vinegar, lemon juice– but is also in a few herbs like sorrel and mints. Sweet often comes from added ingredients like carrots, but can also be found in stevia, fennel, basils, and even lemon balm. Bitter is easily found and should be used sparingly in most blends; use extra parsley, any dark salad green or add a little endive. Salty comes from salt, of course, but also from croutons, cheese, olives, or salad dressings.
Texture is fun to play with– a tender early spring salad made with some sorrel, a handful of violet leaves, butter lettuces, a few springs of chives, and a handful of dill topped with a few shavings of cheese is as pleasing as crisp mid-summer blend of parsley, mint, chick-peas, grated carrots, and fennel shavings. A balanced salad should include some chewy elements, some crunchy bits, and a few tender, soft leaves. Do you always need a balance? No, an entire meal can be balanced to include each element.
Appearance comes down to shapes and colors. Shavings of carrot and strips of bell pepper are different than diced, and often similar shapes are more pleasing to the eye. An all-green salad is visually dull unless you use many different shads of green, or serve it along a bright main dish. Flower blossoms are a nice way to add color– for example, use fresh violets with butter lettuce, violet leaves, fennel, and mint to get dark green, light green, white, and purple. Of the three elements, appearance is least important but often the key to pushing a meal from really good to four stars.
If you are serving the salad beside or on top of something, consider the balance in all the items. And, always make your own salad dressing. It’s well worth the effort. Don’t let another bunch of herbs wilt away in your fridge– let your creativity turn it into a salad!