Todays article is about growing and creating your own gourmet salad. This article covers some ideas for what add to your salads as well as how to grow some of these ingredients

So although the weather is still a bit chilly it is a great idea to start planning your spring and summer veggies now, for when the weather warms up within the next couple of weeks and you can get to planting. So my favourite side dish in spring and summer is a salad, and in particular green salads that pack a punch and are fully loaded. As far as I am concerned the main reason why a lot of individuals do not like salad is because most people make a dull salad, with very few, not exciting ingredients that are not correctly cut. Remember also that a person eats with their eyes as well as their stomach, so a good presentation is key. Don’t be shy, be bold, experiment and have some fun. Without further ado, here are some of the leaves, veggies, fruits, flowers and herbs you should consider adding to your green salad in order to create a gourmet experience which even a person without a liking for salads will enjoy.

The base of your green salad is obviously your greens. Here most people go wrong by just choosing plain old fashioned lettuces which do not pack enough punch. My recommendation is to use about 2/3 mixed traditional lettuces and greens of your choice and then add 1/3 of a wow factor by adding some flavoursome greens. Some examples are rocket, mustard leaves, baby beetroot leaves, baby spinach and green sorrel. Also don’t forget how many weeds and other plants are in your garden which can be added to your salad. To name a few, sorrel leaves, spekboom, portulaca weed, and good old fashioned dandelion.

Here are some general tips for how to grow leafy salad ingredients. Leafy greens do require sunshine to grow successfully but too much and they either burn, wilt and die or sometimes bolt and become bitter. So half a day of not scolding sun is required and a morning sun position is often suitable. Leafy veg require adequate watering but at the same time if over watered will rot or have absolutely no flavour. Leafy veg are also quite susceptible to creatures and critters, so please keep a look out for these and particular snails. Leafy veg mainly require nitrogen so fertilise with an organic food high in nitrogen and make sure to add enough compost when preparing soil. Bone meal should also be included in soil prep for a healthy root system which can keep the leafy greens going. Word of warning, leafy veg do not do well in the high of summer so correct placement is of utmost importance.

The next element of your salad should be your veg. Experiment with growing and using different kinds of sweet peppers but my personal feeling is that the smaller peppers are more appropriate and tasty for salads. A salad is not complete without adding tomatoes but adding the ordinary large tomatoes can be a mistake as they are flavourless, watery and often have a floury texture. Rather grow and use smaller more flavoursome tomatoes like the baby, yellow and orange which are delicious, cocktail tomatoes, vine tomatoes etc. Carrots are great in a salad but adding too large chunky bits is not a good idea. Either finely slice, finely chop or julienne your carrots. You can also experiment with exciting colours by using the funky coloured carrots like purples, reds and oranges. Radishes are one of my favourite salad veg and so many different types are available now a day in so many unusual colours. You can have such fun with these and add a bite to the salad.

Other veg which are also lovely are snap peas (requires cool climate), freshly shelled peas, baby corn (better bought), baby cucumber (better bought), spring onions, avocadoes, olives and the list goes on. Keep in mind that you can also add some cooked vegetables, which is extremely modern like beetroot and pumpkin.

Here are some general tips for how to grow some of these veggies. There are two very important things to remember with any fruiting veg. Firstly getting enough sunshine is the most important factor for the correct ripening of the fruit and this will also have an impact on flavour of fruit. The other thing one requires for successful flavoursome fruiting is making sure plants are getting enough potassium with extra feeding. Epsom salts can also really help here and improves the flavour of fruits. Rooting veg like carrots, beetroot and radishes should not receive too much nitrogen so make sure not to apply much compost when preparing soil and avoid high nitrogen fertilisers. Make sure to add bone meal or superphosphate when preparing soil. Also important for rooting is a well-drained soiled that is not too rich. Radishes can split if they are overwatered and do not develop the characteristic sharp flavour. Also radishes can become too bitter in high summer.

Another component to a salad which is a modern concept is adding a sweet aspect to a salad with the addition of fruits. There are so many different fruits which can be added to a salad which really make it exciting and can help create a masterpiece. Here are some of the common ones. Melons (Watermelon etc), berries (Gooseberries-tart, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries), apples (preferably granny smith), citrus (orange & grapefruit), grapes, pears, pineapple, mangoes, nectarines, figs and cranberries & pomegranate for garnishing are just some. Another unusual fruit which is extremely easy to grow, a heavy producer, available in South Africa and just great, is a melon pear. I love this not well known fruit and you could really surprise people by adding this to your salad. Also experiment by using fruits to make salad dressings and the berries and mangoes work well for this. A raspberry, balsamic vinaigrette is a showstopper salad dressing that adds zest to a salad. You can also experiment by cooking some of the fruit for example chargrilling pineapple, mango and nectarines.

An important component to salad is adding herbs for flavouring. This can either be done by adding chopped or loosely broken up herbs or by making a salad dressing with the herbs. Chives will add an oniony flavour. Tarragon has an anise, liquorish flavour. Dill has a soft celery like flavour and is great finely chopped up and added to a salad dressing. My gran to this day adds dill to every salad dressing she makes and I love it every time. Coriander is also a common salad ingredient but it is definitely an acquired taste. It is really pungent so I wouldn’t add too much of this oriental herb. Something that is also popular now a day is to add fresh coriander seeds (not dry seed) to salads. These are so tasty and fresh and will amaze the people that you feed. Basil is also a common ingredient but again take care not to add too much as it can overpower. Something I love is adding some mint to a salad for a fresh flavour and this works extremely well if you have already added fruits like melons and berries.

Some growing tips for these herbs are as follows. Chives are easy to grow and must just have enough sunlight and moderate watering. Dill prefers a rich soil and must be planted in situ, in other words seeded straight into growing area because it doesn’t transplant well. Fair watering is required. If you are going to use and grow tarragon then try and get the French as it tastes a lot better than the Russian. Tarragon needs a sunny spot and does well in a sandy, well-drained soil. Coriander is an annual herb which does best in autumn and spring and usually does not do well in summer. If you want coriander to carry on producing leaves, then deadhead it and do not allow it to produce flowers. A well-drained soil is required and fairly good watering. Basil growing is very dependent on the type that you grow. Keep in mind that sweet basil cannot be grown in winter and is an annual and does need to be replaced after a while. Like coriander keep the leaves going by preventing flowering. There is a very special basil which I love called lemon basil. If you can get your hands on this, try it out. Mint is basically a weed, so it must be contained somehow and it thrives on lots of water, so even planting it near a tap will be great.

The last components of the salad are garnishes and the pretties. Here I would say there are two things which can be added. These are edible flowers and some crunchy additions. For crunchy editions add foods like nuts (plain/ roasted/ caramelised), seeds (raw/ roasted) crotons, crispy onions or crispy chickpeas. When it comes to edible flowers there are so many options. To start off I would like to talk about some herb and veg blossoms which can be added. Chive and coriander blossoms are dainty and add amazing flavour. Pineapple sage

blossoms with their bright red colour and sweet pineapple flavour are absolutely fantastic and people are not very familiar with these. Mustard greens produce a bright yellow blossom with a powerful peppery taste. Young carrot blossoms are also great added to a salad. Some traditional flowers to add are begonia’s, calendula’s, nasturtiums, violets, dianthus and borage. Something that still needs to be mentioned is that meat is always a welcome addition to a salad. Good meats to add to the green salad are bacon, pancetta, chicken, chorizo, prawns, shrimp and tuna. These are just some of my favourites. Also don’t forget to add a cheese of your choice like feta, shaved parmesan, blue cheese and goat cheese are some of the more common cheeses. Sprouts and micro veg also decorate and flavour a salad beautifully.

I am hoping this article inspires you to be creative and experiment a bit next time you create your gourmet salad. There is no reason why a salad should not be a memorable and enjoyed part of a meal.

Blog written by Jessica Ruger

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