When dining out, it has often been my sad experience to have my meat or seafood meal accompanied by a side salad that looks and tastes no more than an afterthought. A few slices of vegetables drizzled with some generic dressing that, often, don’t even complement the meat or seafood. In many cases, the side salad appears to be a token or, worse, a filler to make the plate look full and more colorful especially when the meat or seafood is meagre or colorless or both.
For someone who has never acquired the very Western habit of eating a salad before the main dish, the side salad means a lot more to me that it probably does to other people. So I appreciate it when the combination of vegetables is given some thought and the dressing does not ruin the flavors and textures of the meat or seafood. And it is a philosophy that I observe at home. In other words, a side salad is never simply ornamental.
To start with, there is no standard cut for salad vegetables. My eyebrow shoots up when I read or hear cooks insist that tomatoes and cucumbers must be cut into thin rings and that carrots and celery must be cut into sticks. That is just so boring.
For the side salad that accompanied the beef for today’s very late lunch, I used the vegetable peeler to make ribbons out of the cucumber and carrot. I added a finger chili, very thinly sliced and with the seeds removed. Then, julienned Thai basil and peppermint leaves. For the dressing, a very simple mixture of rice wine, sugar and salt. And to garnish the salad, some crushed peanuts.
Next time, I think I’ll add thin slices of ripe mangoes too. That should make the side salad even more colorful and delicious.