I have written about "salades composées" in the past and think that the analogy that I used then is still apt. A salade composée is more elaborate and fully calculated than a regular salad. Not to be overly fanciful but, If my usual mixed salad is a young woman with wet hair who has just thrown on jeans and a white tee and looks great, a salade composée is the equivalent of a perfectly coiffed, well preserved lady, elegant in a tailored Chanel suit, (but one who accessorizes with unexpected, fanciful twists and who has a twinkle in her eye...) In my mind at least, a salade composée is, as per the name, composed, planned and thought out before execution. A mixed salad, while good, is just thrown together.
First, choose your base carefully. As illustrated above, I opted for mixed leaves for their soft texture and different visually pleasing shapes and shades of green and purple, and added thinly sliced dinosaur kale for crunch, as well as to complement the lighter green of some of the other leaves.
Then add your vegetables. You should really have a selection of different shapes, sizes, textures and colors for a proper salade composée, and extra points to you if you have different temperatures as well. I used room temperature cooked chunks of butternut squash, tiny florets of raw cauliflower, julienned raw zucchini for freshness, cubes of red pepper for crunch and sweetness, and cooked some sliced shiitake to add a woodsy taste to the mix. I meant to add halved cherry tomatoes but forgot.
I then added some extra items for flavor and texture - some thinly sliced roast beef, some sliced red onion and some home made sourdough croûtons. Herbal notes are always nice in this type of salad and I added a tiny bit of chopped mint as well though I would have preferred tarragon which I did not have.
Dressing is next and a most important step! You need to add it bit by bit and toss each time you do -- you want each leaf and vegetable to be glossy and lightly coated with a sheen of vinaigrette and not end up with a dish of leaves and vegetables drowning in a pool of dressing. Just before the final toss, add a sprinkling of salt to bring the salad to life and toss again. I made my usual vinaigrette of olive oil, rice wine vinegar and grain mustard, but any dressing that you like will do or you can invent one that suits the vegetables in the salad best.
These guidelines work with any variation of vegetable, dressing and add-on that you can imagine, and you can riff off of them however you please, just take the season into account. You are really only limited by availability of produce and your imagination! You can make your salad as elaborate as you want but think it through first - layer flavors that will all come together at the end and make for a cohesive salad with different "companion" tastes in each bite. In the case of this salad this means the individual vegetable flavors, highlighted with zingy red onion and the sharp mustard of my dressing, ensuring that each bite was slightly different, and that the salad wasn't a flat, little Johnny one note affair (or a mess of warring ingredients, each vying to be heard).
I hadn't made a proper one of these in a long time and I found composing it curiously meditative and enjoyable. I have the notion that there will be more of these on the menu in the months to come especially when summer produce comes into its own...
What are you going to use, now that you are primed to make one?