What’s in your salad?
Four veteran chefs speak about the one ingredient that gives their signature salads a hint of summer
Salads are to summers what slow-cooked stews are to winters. When the mercury rises beyond comfort levels and both the will to cook and appetite go for a toss, there is nothing more satisfying than a bowl of cool, refreshing salad. Toss together whatever you fancy (or whatever you find in the refrigerator), squeeze some lime and add seasoning— easy to make, light on the stomach. But is there one core ingredient that would feature in any salad you make in the summer months? We asked four chefs the same question. Here’s what they had to say.
Vineet Bhatia, Lime
Citrus is the key element in chef Vineet Bhatia’s summer salads. A summer salad has to be both light and refreshing, and, for the London-based Michelin-star chef, a citrus element in the salad ticks both these boxes. “Be it an orange, a lime, or even a pineapple, something sour that can tickle your taste buds," says Bhatia. “Summer salads have to be cold and light, like some fruits, sprouts, lentils or even quinoa, and all these work really well with lime."
Bhatia prefers the smaller, greener lime over the yellow lemons.
“Lime is more delicious—it has the right amount of piquancy and acidity to keep you coming for the next bite. And it actually goes very well with all kinds of food, savoury or sweet, Indian or Western, and it can brighten up the blandest of dishes," he says.
Bhatia’s first memory of lime is from lazy summer lunches from his childhood. “Sunday lunches used to be slow-cooked lamb, like a lamb masala, on a bed of thick parathas," Bhatia says. “I remember my father used to squeeze a good lime or two on the lamb. And we got used to it. That is my first memory of lime."
Rahul Akerkar, Mushrooms
“I love citrus and stone fruits and they all go well in summer salads," says chef Rahul Akerkar. “But the one ingredient I can’t do without is mushrooms." So mushrooms find a place in all the salads Akerkar makes. And he usually cooks them first.
“They have this woodiness and earthy tones that I like in food. Also, they have a texture like meat. So in summers, when you want to avoid eating lots of meat, mushroom is a good substitute. It is flavourful, lighter on the stomach and easier to digest," he says. “I love morels when I can afford them. I love chanterelle and hedgehogs. Portobello mushrooms are great for steaks."
Though he can’t recall when he first ate mushrooms, Akerkar remembers a talk in school.“When I was in the fifth grade at the Bombay International School, we had a guy over who spoke about camping and survival and he told us how to find whether something is edible or not when you are in the forests," recalls Akerkar. “Although I don’t remember trying his methods while I was foraging in the US, I remember this talk very vividly."
Daniel Humm, Strawberries
Swiss chef Daniel Humm loves strawberries. So much so that he has replaced tomatoes with strawberries in the gazpacho he serves at Eleven Madison Park, the New York restaurant that he co-owns, and which was voted No.1 restaurant on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list last year.
No wonder then that strawberry is the one core ingredient that features in most of Humm’s summer salads.
“I remember picking fresh strawberries in the field during summertime in Switzerland as a child," says the three Michelin-star chef, recalling his earliest memories of the bright red fruit. His favourite is strawberry salad with cucumbers, pistachio and Parmesan.
Anahita N. Dhondy, Mint
No Parsi household is complete without a mint plant. “Because we use it in tea," says Anahita N. Dhondy, chef manager, SodaBottleOpenerWala. “Every person has her preference for a certain kind of tea or beverage. For me, it is the Parsi tea." Summers and mint leaves go hand in hand. The flavourful and refreshing leaves are used across the country to add life to lemonades and variations of aam panna.
Dhondy uses mint in “my watermelon and feta salad to give that extra kick of freshness", and in the yogurt dressings that she uses in salads.
“I remember watching my father and grandfather plucking mint leaves from our gardens in Delhi or Allahabad for their morning tea," says Dhondy. “That -memory has stayed with me."