I love salades composées (composed, or mixed, salads) for three reasons:
- They are never exactly the same twice;
- They are a cross between a salad, a plate of tapas and a tasting menu;
- They make great use of leftovers.
I stopped ordering salad mains at the restaurant because I was tired of getting big bowls of greens with scarce toppings. The few times I did order one, tempted by the appetizing menu description, I ended up facing a huge pile of lettuce, either wilting (drowned in dressing) or very dry (lacking seasoning).
Not a big fan of feeling like I’m grazing instead of eating, I quickly dismissed this option when eating out. One Sunday at lunchtime a few years ago, abroad on the Greek island of Mykonos, E and I ordered a few plates from a very small family restaurant located on an inland empty square. They divided each plate in two portions and, just like that, they turned our mezze collection into two beautiful composed salads. The dishes on their own were very simple (grilled sausage, fried cheese, tomatoes and a green salad with olives), but plating them all together made for an absolutely stunning multimedia meal that I will remember forever. It changed the way I considered salads.
But what is a salade composée, really? The very serious Larousse Gastronomique says it’s an “elaborated salad composed of diverse ingredients that must always go well together. Composed salads can feature very simple or more elaborated elements that must be plated with a great sense of setting and color. The dressing must be harmonious and not overcome the taste of the ingredients.”
Making a composed salad isn’t as simple as dumping a bunch of leftovers on a plate. I think the easiest way to go about it is to decide on a theme (Italian, Greek, Asian, etc.) and then select ingredients accordingly. I like to start with a base of mixed greens (mixed baby lettuces, arugula, baby spinach), add vegetables, a meat, a cheese and a starch (pita bread, grilled crostini, savory crackers) to scoop up the different elements and any leftover juices. Can you think of a more balanced and complete meal?
As I said before, the possibilities are endless. I usually think of making a salade composée when I open the fridge and find a lot of leftovers. Use your leftovers, choose one of those little spreads that’s been in your fridge door for a while, add a fresh meat and a cheese and voilà! As easy as that, and without ever feeling you’re eating the same thing once again, you have a very nice and flavorful meal.
I’m sharing some of my favorite combinations here with suggestions to make your own. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll want to have leftovers just to get the excuse to serve another composed salad.
Note: For best flavor, in any cold salad, use your best quality olive oil (the one you don’t want to cook with), fleur de sel and freshly ground black pepper.
The Greek Salad
What’s on the plate:
- Mixed baby greens in a lemony dressing*
- Grilled sausages, sliced in half, drizzled with lemon juice and served with more lemon slices (a tip we learned in Greece, it’s delicious!)
- Baby tomatoes, sliced and tossed in extra-virgin olive oil, salt and black pepper
- Feta cheese
- Grilled bread with kalamata olives tapenade
- Homemade tzatziki
What you could add/substitute:
- A salad of grilled vegetables (eggplant, bell peppers, zucchini) instead of the green salad
- Whole kalamata or green olives
- Any other Greek dip like melitzanosalata (eggplant), skordalia (garlic) or taramosalata (fish roe)
- Grilled halloumi cheese
The Salty and Sweet Strawberry Salad
What’s on the plate:
- Mixed baby spinach and lettuce (you could use only baby spinach), tossed with extra-virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar (proportions: 3 parts oil to 1 vinegar), salt and pepper
- Grilled and crispy prosciutto, crumbled
- Sliced fresh strawberries
- Toasted pecans
- Grilled croutons with slices of ripened goat cheese
What you could add/substitute:
Nothing! This salad is perfect as is. Well, maybe you could substitute another fruit if strawberries are not in season, such as raspberries, slices of pear or even peach.
The Classic Niçoise Salad
The Niçoise Salad is the mother of all composed salads. There are probably as many variations of this classic salad as there are cooks, but according to the Dictionnary of Food, it is: “A typical Provençal salad mafe of a selection of tomatoes, cucumbers, skinned raw broad beans, cooked French beans, hard-boiled eggs, anchovy fillets, tuna, black olives, basil and parsley dressed with a garlic-flavored vinaigrette.”
The buzzwords I like to remember: tomatoes, green beans, hard-boiled eggs, tuna, black olives.
What’s in my version of the Niçoise:
- Mixed baby greens in a classic dressing**
- Sliced sweet cherry tomatoes
- Best quality canned tuna (choose tuna that’s packed in olive oil, it’s the only canned variety that has flavor), tossed in lemon juice, a bit of extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper
- French beans, sliced in half, cooked for two minutes in the microwave to make them crunchy-tender, tossed in olive oil, salt and pepper
- Sliced hard-boiled eggs (see this fool-proof method to boil them)
- Black olives – use the cute and delicious Niçoise variety if you can find them
- Because I can’t resist cheesy croutons, I broiled Gruyère cheese on ciabatta bread. You could serve this salad with a simple fresh baguette.
- I forgot to add anchovies but I like them so if you do too, add one or two anchovies on top of each portion.
- If you feel fancy, you could grill your own fresh tuna instead of using canned tuna.
* Lemony Dressing
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, zest of ½ lemon, ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard, salt and pepper to taste. Put everything in a screwtop jar and shake well. Any unused portion of the dressing will keep well for a week in the fridge.
** Classic Dressing
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar, 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, ½ very finely chopped shallot, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Put everything in a screwtop jar and shake well. Any unused portion of the dressing will keep well for a week in the fridge.