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Composed Salads--Cook-Off 12

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#1 Chris Amirault

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Posted 28 July 2005 - 02:31 PM

Every now and then since December 2004, a good number of us have been getting together at the eGullet Recipe Cook-Off. Click here for the Cook-Off index.

For our twelfth Cook-Off, we're going to continue the cool food trend with composed salads. Ok, yes, another northern-hemisphere-centric cook-off: mea culpa. But even if you've been in the hazy, hot, and humid zone the last six or eight weeks, you surely can appreciate the pleasures of a good composed salad.

Which is... what exactly? Well, Dave the Cook found this definition from The New Food Lover's Companion on the FoodTV website:

A salad in which the ingredients are artfully arranged, rather than tossed together. The dressing for a composed salad is usually drizzled over the top of the ingredients. In French the term is known as salade composée.

That'll do for now -- but if you have a working definition of your own, please share!

Unfortunately and unusually, our eGulleteer forebears haven't done too much research on our behalf. Save for a few threads on Waldorf salad, potato salad, and the like, there aren't too many topics devoted to our composed salad days. Whither Cobb? Nicoise? And what about the composed salad traditions in Thailand, Russia, and elsewhere? What should one drink with them? How should one serve them?

Roll up your sleeves and get to steaming, whisking, chopping, and assembling!
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#2 little ms foodie

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Posted 28 July 2005 - 02:57 PM

Don't forget this one on salad nicoise

#3 Chris Amirault

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Posted 28 July 2005 - 04:18 PM

Thanks, Wendy. Must've misspelled "nicoise" (and probably just misspelled "misspelled").
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#4 Rachel Perlow

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Posted 28 July 2005 - 05:37 PM

Would a Caprese Salad count? I made one last week, and since my own tomatoes aren't ripe yet, I'm not going to make another one until they are, so a description will have to suffice (rather than a picture, I mean).

On a round plate arrange slices of fresh mozzarella, red ripe tomato and whole basil leaves, overlapping each other. Grind on some fresh black pepper and a sprinkling of sea or kosher salt. Then a generous drizzle of some really good olive oil, and finish with a light sprinkling of vinegar -- I've been using a Spanish Sherry vinegar lately and I vastly prefer it to run of the mill Balsamic (the blonde color is less distracting than dark Balsamic as well).

This was served with served with crostini. Nice thick slices of rustic bread, toasted until crunchy throughout (about 10 minutes at 325F), lightly rubbed with a cut clove of garlic and drizzled with more olive oil. What a fabulous lunch.

Compare this to the Caprese I observed being made at Umberto's Clam House on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. Slices of a sad pink tomato were layered with the mozzarella -- such a shanda. No basil. No salt & pepper. A drizzle of olive oil of no particular consequence, more oil & vinegar at the table. Really, what is the point of this? Salad Caprese is only good when the tomatoes are ripe and in season. It should not be on any menu as a regular item, but only a seasonal speciality, IMO.

#5 Carrot Top

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Posted 28 July 2005 - 05:53 PM

That should not happen on Arthur Avenue, Rachel. They are ruining their good name!

You are lucky to have tomatoes growing, though. Soon your own Caprese will be ready and delicious. . .

Last week I had some great arugula from the Farmers Market and a good skirt steak.

Tossed the arugula with a balsamic vinaigrette, rubbed some herbs and garlic onto the steak, and cut up some zucchini, yellow squash, and onions in slices about 1/3" thick and seasoned them with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Heated the griddle on the stove, brushed with more olive oil and grilled the veggies and steak.

All done, sliced the steak on the diagonal.

Arugula on plates, steak fanned out on top with juices left on the plate after slicing poured over it, veggies cuddling up next to it.

Served with a pleasant rosemary-olive oil bread gently heated in the oven.

Easy, quick. . .and yummy!

Edited by Carrot Top, 28 July 2005 - 06:28 PM.


#6 Chris Amirault

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Posted 28 July 2005 - 06:48 PM

Would a Caprese Salad count?

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Absolutement. And it'd count more if you had photos! :wink:
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#7 Rachel Perlow

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Posted 28 July 2005 - 07:08 PM

Well, I had it last Monday, so a little late now. I also want to point out that I did not order the pitiful looking Caprese, I was alone and therefore sitting at the bar/counter area (not the drinks bar, more of a diner counter) and watched the salad guy make lots of caesars & more than one Caprese. It really looked like they wanted big round tomatoes with no regard for taste. Sad.

Carrot top - I made something similar with the arugula from my garden before Jason left on his business trip almost two weeks ago. (sniff) He's home tomorrow night, and the arugula plants are nice and full again, so I think something similar might be made over the weekend. Steak is great on top of arugula. Mmm.

#8 Carrot Top

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Posted 28 July 2005 - 08:10 PM

Mmm. And steak salads are really so pleasant for a casual meal in the summertime!

The steak that I had this time was truly so excellent to start off with that I wanted to keep the extra flavors on the simple side. . .but when I can't find a piece of meat with a distinguished flavor, I use a stronger dressing to top it.

The two dressings that I tend to use over and over are a very mustard-y vinaigrette with minced shallots, capers, and fresh thyme. . . and an oriental-style dressing similar to a mayonnaisse but thinner, made with a soy sauce-star anise-garlic reduction, flavored with sesame oil. . .scattered with fine-cut scallions to finish.

I wonder what other people out there might be using as dressings for their steak salads?

#9 Pam R

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Posted 28 July 2005 - 08:14 PM

I wonder what other people out there might be using as dressings for their steak salads?

Balsamic. I know some people seem to think balsamic is over, but I still like it. Balsamic, dijon, olive oil, fresh garlic, salt and pepper. I think steak needs a bold dressing.


I love this cookoff. I could eat a composed salad daily.... if somebody else washes the lettuce for me.

#10 Carrot Top

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Posted 28 July 2005 - 10:11 PM

Here's one I just thought of putting together:

Tender escarole (not the tough old heavy stuff) leaves chopped fairly fine tossed with a bit of good olive oil, sherry vinegar, a touch of salt and a generous amount of fresh ground pepper. . .top with a claw from a fresh Maine lobster right smack dab in the center. . .(an extra one from the batch steamed for dinner last night bien sur :biggrin:) that will then be topped with a swath of fresh lemon mayonnaisse. For the counterpoint, steam some mussels in white wine and a splash of Pernod with a battuto of aromatics that would include onion, carrot, fennel, and flat-leaf parsley. . .steam then gently remove when finished, while allowing some juices and aromatics to remain nestled inside the shells. Mussels in shells to be arranged around lobster claw in slightly casual manner.

What do you think?

Any ideas for improvement?

I might try this when I get back from my weekend trip. . .

Edited by Carrot Top, 28 July 2005 - 10:12 PM.


#11 snowangel

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Posted 28 July 2005 - 10:13 PM

I rarely buy prepared salad dressing, but every so often get a hankering for Annie's Naturals Shitake and Sesame. It makes a great dressing for a steak salad.

On another note, we're planning on having sweet corn and BLT's for dinner tomorrow night, and how I'm starting to wonder about a composed BLT salad. Dressing ideas?
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#12 Carrot Top

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Posted 28 July 2005 - 10:22 PM

On another note, we're planning on having sweet corn and BLT's for dinner tomorrow night, and how I'm starting to wonder about a composed BLT salad.  Dressing ideas?

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Sounds like a perfect meal. My first thought for a dressing was a spicy tomato vinaigrette. . .but then that might be too tomato-ey. Second thought was that something like a Green Goddess, but lighter in texture and sparked up with fresh cilantro and fresh mint might be interesting. . .

Of course the children would love Ranch, I bet. :wink:

#13 JAZ

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Posted 28 July 2005 - 11:15 PM

I love composed salads. The last issue of Fine Cooking magazine had some great salad recipes that, although not composed, could be adapted. I made one with red pepper, carrots, and snow peas with a ginger garlic vinaigrette and topped it with grilled skirt steak (the first time) and sauteed shrimp (the second time). It was great both ways.

My favorite salad cookbook is Lettuce In Your Kitchen by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby -- yes, the grill guys. You have to love a salad book with a recipe for a "salad" topped with grilled pork ribs. Seriously, there are some really great ideas in the book. I hardly ever follow any of them exactly, but always find inspiration within the pages.

#14 Chufi

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Posted 29 July 2005 - 01:34 AM

Ah, I love composed salads. They can look so lovely and abundant all spread out on a big platter!

Here's one I did a little while ago:

Posted Image

new potatoes, roast asparagus, serranoham, eggs, mint. Dressing was a thinned mustard mayo.

I'm going to think now about doing one for this cook-off, prefereably something I haven't done before.

#15 Staximo

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Posted 29 July 2005 - 04:52 AM

Is this a composed salad?

Posted Image

It is made with a "variety of chicory" called Radicchio Rosso di Chioggia ( click here to see a photo ), walnuts, and Taleggio.
Dressing: only olive oil and salt if needed.

#16 Rachel Perlow

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Posted 29 July 2005 - 05:50 AM

On another note, we're planning on having sweet corn and BLT's for dinner tomorrow night, and how I'm starting to wonder about a composed BLT salad.  Dressing ideas?

View Post

For a BLT salad, I would just use mayonnaise. Homemade would be good, but you could take a good storebought mayo like Hellman's and just think it with a little milk and some of the juices from cutting the tomato. I put mayo on my BLT sandwiches so that's what makes the most sense to me. As for composition, I would use a nice crunchy lettuce, like romaine, torn or cut into large shred and dress it with the mayo. Top the lettuce with three sections: 1/3 diced tomato (if large tomato is used) or quartered cherry or grape tomato, 1/3 crumbled bacon, and 1/3 homemade croutons. Take picture, then toss the salad and eat, mmm.

#17 helenjp

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Posted 29 July 2005 - 07:01 AM

Hmmm...when I was a student, I remember I had a big thing for composed salads. It seemed impossible to have a party without a greek salad edged with red peppers and was it radishes, and decked with feta cheese and olives.

I liked to make them on a huge shallow china platter which was originally part of a great-aunt's bedroom furniture - it originally held her china ewer and wash basin, both also popular items for large family meals in later times!

I'm going to experiment with this when I get back to NZ and get hold of some feta cheese again!

#18 CharityCase

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Posted 29 July 2005 - 07:23 AM

Hmmm...when I was a student, I remember I had a big thing for composed salads. It seemed impossible to have a party without a greek salad edged with red peppers and was it radishes, and decked with feta cheese and olives.

I liked to make them on a huge shallow china platter which was originally part of a great-aunt's bedroom furniture - it originally held her china ewer and wash basin, both also popular items for large family meals in later times!

I'm going to experiment with this when I get back to NZ and get hold of some feta cheese again!

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I've watched and envied every cook-off but have never had the time, space or money to participate in most. Finally one I can do.

Forgot to add that one of my favorites consists of:

Mixed greens (1/3 of an elongated plate)
Italian tuna in oil
white beans (or white and red)
French Lentils
Olives
Capers
Basil
Olive Oil and white wine vinegar applied sparesely
Yellow and Red Tomatoes
A thin wedge of pecorino jutting out from the white beans

All served atop a few stale rounds of baguette

In fact, this is probably what I'll make for the cook-off, assuming it fits the bill of a salad composé

Edited by CharityCase, 29 July 2005 - 07:27 AM.


#19 Mallet

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Posted 29 July 2005 - 07:45 AM

I misread the title of this cookoff as "Composted Salads" :wacko: .
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#20 Patrick S

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Posted 29 July 2005 - 08:04 AM

I misread the title of this cookoff as "Composted Salads"  :wacko: .

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Ah, an early idea for Cook-Off XIII.
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#21 Chris Amirault

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Posted 29 July 2005 - 08:14 AM

Instead of answering "yes" to every question concerning whether something is or is not a composed salad, I think that we can delve into the more philosophical aspects.

What elements make up a successful composed salad? What textural balances? What flavor nuances? What about color? arrangement? size?

Meanwhile,

I misread the title of this cookoff as "Composted Salads"  :wacko: .

View Post


Were you spying on the dinner I made Wednesday night? The viniagrette for the mesclun was referred to repeatedly as "Salty Dressing with Salt." :hmmm:
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#22 ludja

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Posted 29 July 2005 - 08:39 AM

Ah, I love composed salads.  They can look so lovely and abundant all spread out on a big platter!

Here's one I did a little while ago:

Posted Image

new potatoes, roast asparagus, serranoham, eggs, mint. Dressing was a thinned mustard mayo.
...

View Post


That looks so great Chufi! Thanks for the inspiration..
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#23 Smithy

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Posted 29 July 2005 - 09:23 AM

Instead of answering "yes" to every question concerning whether something is or is not a composed salad, I think that we can delve into the more philosophical aspects.

What elements make up a successful composed salad? What textural balances? What flavor nuances? What about color? arrangement? size?

View Post

I'm looking forward to some of the answers regarding this. I first ran across the term "composed salad" maybe 7 years ago (and that particular salad's a winner at my house) but still don't really understand what makes it a composed salad or not. The working definition seems to mean that it's artistically arranged and not tossed - but I suspect that if I said a salad is first composed, then tossed I'd be missing the point.

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#24 Chris Amirault

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Posted 29 July 2005 - 09:47 AM

Brainteaser:

Molded lemon Jello with marshmallows, mandarine orange sections, and baby shrimp: composed salad?

Diced aspic with cornichons and duck confit: composed salad?
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#25 Al_Dente

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Posted 29 July 2005 - 10:13 AM

A good variation on a Caprese salad is to include slices of watermelon and substitute a good creamy feta for the mozzarella.
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#26 Rachel Perlow

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Posted 29 July 2005 - 11:45 AM

A good variation on a Caprese salad is to include slices of watermelon and substitute a good creamy feta for the mozzarella.

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I would then use mint instead of basil.

#27 Pan

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Posted 29 July 2005 - 11:45 AM

Ah, I love composed salads.  They can look so lovely and abundant all spread out on a big platter!

Here's one I did a little while ago:

Posted Image

new potatoes, roast asparagus, serranoham, eggs, mint. Dressing was a thinned mustard mayo.[...]

View Post


For what it's worth, if I had seen that picture in any other context, I wouldn't have thought "salad." It looks to me like cold cuts plus roasted asparagus, with some other things for good measure/decoration (especially the hard-boiled egg quarters).

I think what makes Thai salads with meat in them salads to me is that the ingredients are more evenly mixed together, but if they are, I guess that is contrary to the concept of a composed salad.

Edited by Pan, 29 July 2005 - 09:06 PM.


#28 annachan

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Posted 29 July 2005 - 11:52 AM

Poached asparagus, top with a few slices of ham or proscuitto and a poached egg. Top with a dressing of seasoned rice vinegar, mayo, salt, pepper and Persian lime olive oil.

I'm ready for lunch!

#29 snowangel

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Posted 29 July 2005 - 12:01 PM

Here's another question. In the past, when I've had composed salads, they have been individual salads. When making one for more than one person, do you toss before serving, or serve some of each component and let the eater decide what do do with their portion?
Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"

#30 misstenacity

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Posted 29 July 2005 - 01:57 PM

I submit to you The World's Smallest Caprese Salad:

Posted Image

That's:
1 - 1/2" thick 2" diameter piece of fresh mozz, surrounded by:
2 - 1/2" thick slices of 2" diameter tomato, topped with:
4 - drops aged balsamic vinegar, encased in:
2 - basil leaves

....it adds up a a mouthful of summer! :-)

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