There are many questions in life that remain unanswered. Are we alone in the universe, is there life after death, when is enough, enough and why did we vote for Brexit? But the question I ponder most is – what makes a salad a salad? Sure I understand what a salad is but it is a word used to describe so many dishes I struggle to understand what the common factors must be in order for it to be called so.
As a child in meeker times, a salad would simply be a mix of green leaves – in early childhood mainly iceberg lettuce, in later life pretentious leaves such as rocket and watercress – all served with a simple oil and vinegar dressing. I was never a fan of this type of salad, it took up space that was reserved for meat and cheese and crisps. Should a salad consist of only green leaves and dressing, possibly tomatoes and cucumber too at a push? It is healthy and salads have always been the choice of the health conscious. Salad is a healthy word. It makes us feel good if we just tell people we only had a salad for lunch, or I’m not hungry I’ll just have a salad. So does a salad have to be healthy? If so where does that leave classics such as Greek and Caesar? They are both well known as salads but with the inclusion of fattening, but delicious, dressings and cheese they can hardly be considered healthy and they are certainly more than just mixed leaves.
Perhaps a salad is all about temperature. They can consist of whatever they want but they must be no hotter than warm. I can see how this works but it is a very loose definition. So anything that is not hot can be called a salad? Cereal is a salad? Also what about the cold days in autumn and winter where the last thing we want is a cold salad, surely we should be allowed a hot salad? No, temperature alone should not define a salad.
I think a key component of a salad is that it consists of a mix of ingredients that are, preferably, mixed together in one bowl. That will stop anyone calling a delicately placed mix of ingredients on a plate a salad as that is merely an arrangement or scattering, certainly not a salad. But then does anything mixed automatically become a salad. Is Haribo Starmix a salad, what about a bag of mixed nuts?
So, so far all we have worked out that a salad should be constructed by mixing all the ingredients together in a bowl. They can be any temperature, they are not solely green leaves and dressing and they are not only the preserve of the health conscious. We are no closer to understanding what a salad is or should be and the more I think the more I believe it is a debate which should be left to intellectual types or the courts. Though, I will helpfully offer a way forward until such people find the time to commence the discussion.
We can go one of two ways. Perhaps we increase our vocabulary so that the word salad isn’t used quite so much. We could use words like melange, or cocktail or medley instead of the ubiquitous salad. This is my least favourite course of action as it is a slippery slope and soon menus will be teeming with words that chefs have picked out of a thesaurus – Tuna Nicoise medley anyone, or Waldorf jumble? A better idea is to refuse to define the dish at all and make people think for themselves. Simply list the main ingredients to offer some intrigue and a little clue as to what the diner can expect and then allow them to choose whether they want to eat it or not. We should be smart enough to decide what we like. The less fancy words on menus the better and if it means we lose the word salad then so be it; it’s a price I’m willing to pay.
In case you are not so smart then I guess this dish of butternut squash, kale and bacon is a salad, in the very general sense of what the word now means. Though I should warn you that while it has been mixed together in one bowl, it is probably hotter than warm and it is certainly not healthy – I have made sure of this with the addition of cheese and bacon.
The choice of cheese is up to you, I have a fondness for Cambozola, (a type of blue veined brie) with its creamy but earthy flavour, but I have also made this salad with stilton. To be honest any creamy, blue cheese would work. Also for the sake of versatility you could replace the squash with pumpkin or carrots, maybe even beetroot. Hell why not a mix of beetroot and butternut squash. Just think of the pretty colours that you could post on Instagram.
Cooking Time: 45mins
1 sm. Butternut Squash about 800-1kg in weight
1 small Red Onion
160g Smoked bacon lardons, or streaky bacon.
80-100g Cambozola or a creamy Stilton, cut into cubes
1 tbsp. Red wine Vinegar
Heat the oven to 200c (fan) or gas mark 7.
There is no need to peel the butternut squash just cut the top and end off and then cut in half lengthwise, scooping out the pulp and seeds. Chop into 1cm dice and add to a large baking tray, big enough to fit the squash in one layer so it roasts rather than steams. Add some oil to the squash and season with salt and pepper and roast in the oven for 45-50mins until golden, stir once or twice during this time.
Slice the red onion as thinly as you can and place in a large mixing bowl. Heat a frying pan over a medium high heat. Cut the lardons or streaky bacon into ½ cm strips/cubes and fry until golden and crisp. Chop the walnuts roughly and add to the pan once the bacon is almost cooked, fry a minute or two longer then add to the red onion.
Next bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Discard any tough stalks from the kale and then thinly slice into ½ cm strips. Add to the boiling water, bring back to the boil and cook covered for 8 -10 minutes, once cooked drain well and toss in the colander to get rid of as much water as possible. Add to the bowl with the other ingredients, followed by the squash once cooked. Add the red wine vinegar followed by the cheese and another twist or two of black pepper and give it one final mix.
Printable version: roasted-butternut-squash-kale-and-bacon