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September 8, 2011

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Dressing up salad days of summer

GREEN salads are very healthy, especially if they include a variety of vegetables and if they are not loaded with oil. Still, many people find the green salad boring.

"I don't like salad. The flavor is too light and the texture is too simple, but it's healthy and low-calorie and helps me lose weight," says Faye Gu, a local Shanghainese who eats salad every day.

Too simple? Salad is probably one of the most varied and versatile dishes around. The dictionary describes salad as a cold dish of various mixtures of raw or cooked vegetables, usually seasoned with oil, vinegar or other dressing.

But there are as many salads as you can imagine; more than 1,000 are recorded. They range from light and refreshing Mediterranean salad to rich and creamy East European style to sour and spicy East Asian flavor.

Almost everyone makes salads at home but inspiration is often lacking. We interviewed two hotel chefs known for their salad dishes in Shanghai and asked their advice.

Jeremy Harris, executive chef of the Renaissance Shanghai Zhongshan Park Hotel, emphasizes that presentation is very important, especially to the guests in Azur.

"If you can use colorful ingredients and make the dish visually appealing, your appetite will be naturally stimulated and enhanced," he says.

Jack Liu, executive chef of the Radisson Plaza Xing Guo Hotel Shanghai, says salad's health benefits should also be considered.

"I am Chinese and inspired by the Chinese food tradition of serving seasonal dishes and pursuing yin-yang (cold-hot energy) balance. I prefer to choose ingredients according to different seasons. For example, I add some herbs with a yin nature to balance yang in hot summer.

Dressings vary around the world. In France and some Mediterranean countries, such as Spain, Italy and Greece, vinaigrette is very popular; it's a mixture of olive oil and vinegar, often flavored with salt and pepper and fresh herbs, such as rosemary and basil. In Eastern Europe and Russia, creamy dressings with mayonnaise are popular. Asian salad dressings often feature soy sauce, chili paste and sesame oil.

Our two chefs emphasize fresh, organic and seasonal ingredients, with light dressings, though all kinds of dressings are available.

This week we explore the salads at the Renaissance Shanghai Zhongshan Park, which may have the city's largest salad bar, and at the Radisson Plaza Xing Guo, which interprets simple salads for fine dining.

The salad bar at the Renaissance Shanghai Zhongshan Park occupies almost half of the restaurant. Ninety-nine kinds of ingredients are availed including seasonal greens, fresh or reserved vegetables, meats, dressings, fruits and toppings.

The wide range of seasonal greens includes romaine, rocket (arugula) and frisee, all recommended by Chef Jeremy. Nine dressings are available, including classic Caesar, creamy French, berry vinaigrette, ginger soy sauce and olive oil. We recommend passion fruit vinaigrette, with a sweet and sour taste.

After finishing your salad buffet (80 yuan/US$12.5), we suggest ordering a glass of freshly blended juice that's flavorful and healthy.

Radisson Plaza Xing Guo has launched two salads for this season: one is gravlax salmon with beetroot, citrus, rocket and beetroot vinaigrette; the other is smoked duck with yellow peaches, young lettuce and peace vinaigrette.

The salmon, marinated in beetroot juice, is bright, pinkish-orange, tender, creamy and slightly sweet. Pungent, aromatic rocket is refreshing. "Rocket itself has strong peppery flavor. Hence, I use it to balance the salmon being originally too light. Besides, rocket is known for its alkaline nature and helps maintain the pH balance in the body," Chef Jack explains.

All the ingredients are flavored with citrus juice made by the chef. A sweet and sour taste develops the nutty flavor of the salmon.

The other special salad is smoked duck with seasonal yellow peaches, young lettuce and peach vinaigrette. Because of its yin nature, duck is often used as a summer ingredients. Yellow peaches that ripen in August develop the smoky flavor of the meat.


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