The Renaissance saw a return of the preprandial salad, restoring a custom from ancient Rome where bitter green leaves and herbs were dressed with salt (‘salata’ – salad), vinegar and the ubiquitous drizzle of olive oil.
The bitter principle in salad leaves such as radicchio, rocket and endives stimulate the appetite and aid digestion, explaining why salad traditionally preceded the meal.
Salad vegetables provide an abundance of the antioxidant carotenoids, chlorophyll, vitamins C, K and A, as well as minerals iron, calcium and magnesium. The rule of thumb is the darker the colour, the better for you. Kale, rocket and spinach, for instance, have more nutrients than butter or cos lettuce.
The proud history of salad took a turn for the worse in the 70’s and 80’s – the era of Thousand Island dressing smothering iceberg lettuce. Modern salads have risen from the mire. Today’s salads are likely to sport chicken and cheese, asparagus and seeds in addition to the basic green leaves. By adding a handful of protein such as fish, legumes, seeds, chicken, cheese, nuts or meat, you transform a bunch of green stuff (fine in it’s own way) to a nutritionally complete meal. Salads have segued from entrée to main event. Perfect for the time-poor yet health conscious new Renaissance woman and man.
To boost the health benefits of your salad, throw in fresh herbs.
- Basil – aromatic and essentially Italian particularly when partnered with tomatoes. A nervous system tonic.
- Nasturtium leaves and flowers – add colour and oodles of vitamin C and A.
- Coriander and mint – exotic and cooling, both are excellent for digestion.
- Italian parsley – a rich source of iron and magnesium.
- Watercress – pungent and part of the mustard family, good for liver and detoxification, also a kidney tonic.
- Calendula petals – brilliant yellow means full of carotene, calendula is a traditional antibiotic herb for the immune system.
One serve of Caesar salad has 30g fat. Desist.
Always check the ingredients of salad dressings, especially if it is advertised as low fat, it might contain loads of sugar.
Wild lettuce is used herbally as a sedative for anxiety, insomnia and pain.
A cup of kale contains more calcium than a cup of milk (young kale leaves are more tender).