CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
A sprinkling of edible flowers gives this salad the feeling of spring. A composed -- as opposed to tossed -- salad can be assembed like a work of art. CLICK FOR LARGE
A mixed salad doesn't have to look mixed-up; arranging colors and shapes adds an appetizing touch
SALAD . . . you look absolutely mahvelous
! The French have a beautiful name for these beautiful salads: Salades Composées. Unlike their tossed salad counterparts, composed salads are made in advance of serving and artfully arranged on plates or platters. Both "artful" and "arranged" are key terms in preparing them.
You needn't be a Renoir to create striking composed salads, however. You are composing each time you arrange vegetables with fresh, pure colors and decide against muddying your painting by tossing them all together. When you fan out asparagus spears or overlap paper-thin cucumber slices on ruffled lettuces, then place cherry tomato quarters where your creation cries out for a touch of red, you are composing.
Like paintings, your composition might be representational or abstract. Imagine representational designs -- natural forms such as flowers, birds, butterflies and palm trees. Or geometric forms: stars, sun-bursts, compasses, fans, pinwheels.
If you're really ambitious, try assembling a butterfly, in the manner of a Neiman Marcus salad.
Not enough time to play with these? Then try your hand with abstract compositions that take only a few more minutes to make than tossed salads.
First, check your refrigerator for odds and ends of roast chicken, ahi or flank steak. Pair these with sturdy, zesty greens scored from a farmers' market, some fresh asparagus and Hamakua tomatoes that just appeared at your neighborhood supermarket, and you have dinner.
Pull out your prettiest salad plates or platters and chill them while you envision how you'll intersperse your ingredients, using the artist's tools of color, texture and shape. You see foods before you taste them, so pleasing the eye also teases the appetite.
Classic salads might serve as inspiration. Chef's salads are the best-known composed salads, and these are being constantly updated and improved as new vegetables and cheeses become widely available. Salade Nicoise, with its Boston-lettuce base, green beans, tomato wedges, sliced potatoes, olives and hard-boiled eggs, is even more healthful and attractive with fresh ahi substituting for the traditional canned tuna.
The primary rule is not to fuss too much. Fussing not only takes valuable time, it inhibits spontaneity. The great Escoffier warned about over-decorating: "The increased appetizing look resulting therefrom is small compared with the loss in the taste of the preparation." After all, you won't be working in unforgiving watercolors, so if something looks truly dreadful on the plate, just pick it up, rearrange it, or scrape it off and start afresh.