Salad leaves are a topic of discussion these days. More so with the sudden growth of the health food market. People tend to panic when large heads of crispy (and expensive) iceberg lettuce disappear from the market. What should a lover of good salad or healthy lifestyle, or both, then do?
Well, you can use a whole bunch of other interesting leaves, with an assortment of textures and flavours, to toss the perfect salad. They’re all readily available in local markets, if not on the shelves of fancy, chiller-equipped supermarkets. Chhoti methi, which is sold in tiny bundles in local bazaars in Mumbai, is a crunchy and flavourful (mustard-like) option. You can also use red and green chauli bhaaji. Mix these together with ordinary lettuce, and you have a perfectly palatable salad.
My favourite “ordinary” salad leaf is the common spinach or palak. Because spinach is not prewashed, bagged and graded into baby and ordinary categories here, as it is in some other countries, you will have to do it yourself.
This is a small price to pay for something so readily available at such a low price. For about eight cups of spinach, you will have to buy at least two large bunches and sift them. Choose only the small ones; the others can be used for a sabzi or soup. As with any kind of raw leaf, soak, wash and dry it properly. The Embassy of the US in India recommends soaking anything raw in a chlorine solution, which is considered the safest way to eat it. The solution is available at local chemists and comes with the brand name Steri Liq, and is far better than the commonly used chemical, potassium permanganate.
After you have soaked the leaves in this solution (follow the instructions on how much solution to mix with water), remove and, preferably, spin-dry. If you are going to eat salads often, it is worth investing in a salad spinner. They are readily available all over Europe, the US, Singapore and Hong Kong, in any large department store. They are inexpensive and light to carry. Your salad leaves come out completely dry and ready to use. The other option is to keep them in zip lock bags in the refrigerator, where they will last for up to a week.
A spinach salad goes very well with fried bacon. It may be easier to cut up the bacon first with a pair of scissors, and then fry it. What is really essential is the bacon fat which, when poured as part of the dressing, slightly wilts the spinach, which makes it easier to eat. I also like to use something sweet in a spinach and bacon salad. In this recipe, I have added Californian grapes, which are now available all year round.
Warm Spinach Salad with Grapes and Bacon
3 tbsp balsamic or cider vinegar
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp coarsely ground pepper
2 bunches of spinach leaves (about 8 cups when cleaned)
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
8 bacon rashers
12 large grapes, halved
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
¼ cup grated parmesan or shavings
Combine ingredients for dressing in a bowl and set aside. Put the washed and dried spinach in a large salad bowl. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and fry the bacon until almost crisp. Drain the hot fat and add to the dressing. Add the warm bacon bits to the spinach. Pour the salad dressing over the spinach and bacon while the dressing is still warm. Toss in walnuts, sliced onion and grapes. Sprinkle with parmesan and serve at once.
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