I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it once more: I’m a salad girl through and through.
There are few things I enjoy more than a carefully curated salad that honors the best flavors, textures, and colors of the season.
Creating a work of art that will make a salad-lover out of even the staunchest of meat-and-potatoes folks is effortless. Start by envisioning the characteristics of each individual component and imagine how it would contribute to the final product. Like most art—with no exceptions to culinary artistry—there are few limits to your creativity.
Still, I always remember the importance of three things when designing a harmonious, beautiful, and delicious epicurean masterpiece: taste, texture, and color. When it comes to food, noting how different tastes, textures, and colors both blend and contrast is always wonderful and welcome. This extends especially to a well-made salad.
Think greens. Use an assortment of greens as your salad base. Try a combination of crisp, mild, broad-leafed lettuces and spinaches with bitter, fern-like leaves (such as frisee) or spicy bites of arugula, watercress, or kale.
Use colors. Pair protein, fruits, and/or veggies in a range of bright, vibrant hues (yellow, purple, orange, red, etc.) with a mixture of both pale and deeply colored greens.
Contrast flavors. Juxtapose salty cheeses and meats with little tidbits of sweet and refreshing bites of tang.
Add crunch. Remember texture with the crunch of nuts, seeds, croutons, or crisp bacon bits.
Create shapes. Use different cutting styles to create fanciful shapes and visual appeal. Believe it or not, cutting things in different ways can create different sensations. Use vegetable peelers for ribbons of veggies or cheese. Cut fruits, vegetables, cheeses, and meats into assorted slices, wedges, sticks, and shreds to create body and mouthfeel. Combine them all into one salad to draw in hungry eaters with their eyes first.
And remember, more does not always equal better. If your salad is too busy, nothing will truly shine. Imagine your salad as a base of one or more lettuces (or other greens) in assorted shapes, sizes, textures, flavors, and colors. Add two or three seasonal ingredients, a cheese and/or meat (should you desire some extra protein), and one final garnish of crunch, if desired. That’s it.
A well-composed salad with lots of protein and a generous serving of accoutrements can be substantial enough to be a meal. And a salad that is minimalist in accessories and embellishments can be a simple, palette-cleansing course. The following falls somewhere in the middle. Generous in garnishes and hearty enough to satisfy even the most sizable appetites, yet still light and delicate enough to serve as an elegant component of a multicourse meal.
I believe one thing all salads have in common is their ability to highlight many seasonal punches in one bite. This salad does just that with two of my favorite treats, both available in peak season right now: persimmon and pomegranate.
Lesser known though downright delicious, persimmon comes on the scene in November and usually stays through the winter months. Though there are quite a few varietals, the two most commonly available in the United States are the Fuyu and the Hachiya. Though they look similar, they’re quite unique from each other. The tomato-shaped Fuyu—with its dusky orange skin, crisp texture, and mild sweet flavor—can be sliced and eaten when firm. The acorn-shaped Hachiya has a bright, shiny orange skin and is extremely high in tannins, which packs a mouth-puckering astringent punch. But when allowed to soften, it takes on a texture almost like a pudding. Each fruit has its place, and both are delicious in their own way. But for obvious reasons, you’ll want to use the Fuyu for this salad.
The more familiar pomegranate adds a sweet-tart flavor and lots of juiciness, not to mention another element crucial to a good salad: crunch. Pomegranate seeds add a nice bite and make great stand-ins for nuts or croutons
I used crisp, pale green romaine hearts. They’re easy to find, but if you can’t, feel free to use the crunchiest leaves from a whole head of romaine. It is mild and modest, yet with enough flavor and stability to stand up to the other ingredients. A scattering of piquant arugula leaves adds contrasting green hues and a spicy bite, keeping our base uncomplicated yet still adding texture and taste. Salty prosciutto and shavings of dry Parmesan cheese add a lovely contrast to the sweet fruit and the tang of the pickled shallot and simple vinaigrette dressing.
The final product is a harmonious balance of elements to delight your senses. A perfect addition to any holiday menu or a simple, yet impressive, stand-alone meal served alongside a crisp white wine or sparkling water and loaf of crusty bread.
Romaine Hearts with Persimmon, Prosciutto, Pomegranate, and Crisp-Pickled Shallot
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 5 minutes
1 large shallot, peeled and thinly sliced
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Sea salt and cracked pepper
⅔ cup fruity olive oil
A touch of honey, if desired
5 oz. romaine hearts, torn in half if large
1–2 large handfuls arugula leaves
2 Fuyu persimmons, cored and cut into wedges
1 pomegranate, seeds removed
6–8 slices paper-thin prosciutto, torn into ribbons
2 oz. Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, or other dry Parmesan-like cheese, shaved with a vegetable peeler
- Place sliced shallot in a small pot. Add vinegar to cover and a pinch of salt. Cover and bring to a boil. Simmer until shallot is bright pink and crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Drain vinegar into a blender and set aside sliced shallot to cool.
- Add Dijon, salt, pepper, and olive oil to reserved vinegar. If desired to balance out the tartness, add a touch of honey. Blend until combined and slightly thickened. Transfer to a small jar and set aside.
Build salad by placing romaine hearts and arugula in a large bowl. Top with enough dressing to coat. Divide greens among serving plates and garnish with remaining ingredients. Alternately, serve the salad family-style by tossing all ingredients (save the cheese) in a large bowl. Garnish each serving with shaved cheese.
Image from Briana Goodall.