How to turn over a new leaf

There isn’t a better time of the year for eating salad, says Esquire's food columnist John Lanchester, and if you still think they're boring, you're not trying hard enough.

Salads are one area of cooking and eating where it’s easy to fall into a routine you don’t particularly enjoy. I think there is some half-conscious feeling that because salads are ‘good for you’, therefore you aren’t necessarily supposed to take too much pleasure in eating them. The upside of this is that it’s easy to have a huge impact on your salad cooking for very little effort, and also with little risk, since it’s hard to bugger up a salad irretrievably. 

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The first interesting salad I ever cooked was copied from a local tratt, and was called Insalata Creola: young spinach, avocado, crispy pancetta, vinaigrette. The secret ingredient, I suspect, is the bacon—as it often is: bacon has a tremendous affinity with leaves and bacon vinaigrette (cooked crispy, then crumbled into the dressing) will cheer up almost any bowl of anything. Watercress, with or without extra rocket, bacon, new potatoes, dressed with oil and vinegar then with a poached or fried egg plonked on top just as you’re serving it. 

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Roquefort or stilton, cobb lettuce, walnuts. Caesar salad, with all the various ideological differences (ie anchovy and/or Worcestershire sauce, parmesan in dressing or just on leaves, romaine lettuce only or other leaves allowed, olive oil or more neutral oil, garlic or no garlic). A simple salad of leaves, but with a different oil or vinegar: walnut oil, say, or hazelnut vinegar. These are both so out of fashion they’ve come back again. The only rule is not to buy bagged salad. Also, there is some obscure principle of physics which means that salad dressing tastes better if someone else mixes it. Basically, do anything you feel like, as long as it’s not what you’re used to.

Read the full article in the August issue

Illustration by Mia Nilsson