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Salads: Health on a Platter
by Dr. Anjana Maitra

In today’s age of junk food and fast food most of us do not pay much attention to salads. At the most we just put a spoonful of salad on our plate just to taste it. However salads are very important for a balanced diet and to keep our body healthy and fit.

The fire was invented and man learnt how to cook food. At first the cooked food  probably first provided for variety and a change from raw food, but today it dominates our tables. Even now, centuries later our taste buds do appreciate raw food. Whether just to munch on till the main course arrives or at home as a filler, today no meal is complete without a salad.

There are infinite varieties of salads. Apart from the usual salad of cucumber-tomato-onion, there are fruit salads, salads with sprouted grams, Russian salads, pasta salads, salads with nuts/almonds/raisins and other ingredients like cottage cheese, egg, chicken, ham, beans, boiled potatoes and so on. The ingredients in a salad can also be varied according to one’s imagination, taste and season.

Salads can be had as a snack,  a side dish, an accompaniment to a meal or even as a main dish. Many people prefer munching cucumber or carrot sticks along with their drinks instead of fried snacks. You can serve a healthy curd dip along with the salad sticks.

While choosing vegetables for a salad we have to keep in mind that they should be fresh. No amount of maneuvering can disguise an overripe tomato or a limp lettuce leaf.

Herbs add flavor, texture and visual appeal to a salad- each of which can be changed simply by varying the herbs used. Fresh herbs (rather than dried ones) are preferable, since their flavours are milder. Some of the herbs commonly used in salads are coriander (dhania leaves), mint (pudina leaves), basil (tulsi), curry leaves, parsley, sage and thyme. Ask your Mom if you can add some herbs to the salads when she next makes one. Lettuce is often used as a base and it looks visually very appealing as well.

Salads do not need much garnishing as such, because they look colourful and attractive by themselves. However different types of garnishing may be used to make them look more attractive, using cherries, cashews, walnuts, ground peanuts, dry fruits, vegetable carving flowers etc.

We often see beautifully designed salads at hotels and wedding receptions. Intricate designs of peacocks, geometrical designs, flowers and trees can often be seen at the salad counter at banquets. They add a touch of colour and elegance to the entire spread. Even for home parties one can use an attractive salad decoration as an eye catching centre piece. Salad vegetables can be cut into fancy shapes (instead of the usual round slices), flowers can be carved out of tomatoes, radish, beetroot, carrots etc. The colour combination should also be kept in mind.

Preferably a salad should be served immediately after preparing it, as it loses its taste and crispness if kept for long in the frig. Peel the vegetables thinly as most of the essential nutrients are found just below the peel. Also wash the vegetables well several times in running water before cutting them, so that the dirt as well as the chemicals and fertilizers are washed away.

Once a good salad is made, its ‘dressing’ is very important. Though normally we make do with  a dash of lemon juice, other dressings like vinegar, whipped yoghurt, spicy raw mango chutney, buttermilk, olive oil, salad oil, sesame oil etc can also be used. Readymade salad dressings are also easily available.

In Europe a platter of cheese and salad is often a healthy ending to a hearty meal. Americans prefer a side salad served with the main course. One can also make ‘stuffed’ salads by scooping out the flesh from whole tomatoes or capsicums and stuffing them with a vegetable filling (finely chopped vegetables with dressing), or shredded chicken/meat/prawns etc, if so desired. Salads can be packed in picnic hampers and tiffin boxes. Bite sized salads can be served as entrees, starters and cocktail snacks. You can have a sprouted salad as breakfast or a fruit salad as dessert.

Salads are a boon for those on a diet. As they are very low in calories they can be eaten in good quantities. Dieters are advised to start their meal with a bowl of fresh salad as it fills them up and they avoid over eating. Salads are extremely nutritious and good for our hair, skin and nails. They provide us with much-needed vitamins and minerals which are essential for a balanced diet. Fitness experts consider salads to be the healthy, green and best way to stay fit and fine.

Thus salads are a part of the global culinary culture and have become a part of our eating style. Let your imagination run riot and surprise your family members by rustling up unique salads for the family table and helping your Mom. Lets enjoy a wide variety of exotic, colourful and innovative salads laid out on a platter!

23-Oct-2011
 
Views: 7949
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