A Taste of Time: The Salad
words by Emma-Louise Groucutt & photography by Amy Truong
'What garlic is to salad, insanity is to art.'
- Augustus Saint-Gaudens
‘You are what you eat’.
Our identity is made up of what we look like, what we say and in particular, what we eat.
Our choice of food- of salad says more about you than ‘boring’, ‘healthy’, or ‘doesn’t have friends’. It speaks about who you are and where you came from. It draws the line between ‘edible leaves’ and ‘inedible weeds’.
The Ancient Greeks liked lettuce, though it was spindly and flowering. Today, the way they liked it would be considered an inedible weed. Instead, we eat iceberg lettuce and baby spinach, hydroponically grown. If a man from Ancient Greece were to prepare a salad, he wouldn’t call it that. If you asked for Acetaria, you’d be happily served lettuce leaves rubbed with salt, vinegar, olive oil and mixed with herbs. For Pliny, Acetaria was food for convenience. It needed no fire for cooking and was always ready. If you were hungry for a salad in Ancient Rome, you would get much the same, a salad of leafy greens, lettuce, chicory, endives, herbs like mint, parsley, thyme, and pickled vegetables. Herba salata they called it, and from that we have received the term - salad. There is more to our salads than just leaves and oil. Can you imagine a world so boring, without legumes and grains? Without the colour of tomatoes and the creaminess of dressings? As exciting as lettuce is, there’s a reason why we say ‘as limp as a lettuce leaf’.
Salads are tales of travel and adventure, of South America and the Middle East. Tabouleh has been enjoyed since the Middle Ages – a delicious mixture of cracked wheat and parsley. They called it 'qadb' and is the perfect accompaniment to slow roasted lamb or crispy falafel. Eat your way through Lebanon, Syria and Israel, and this crisp, fresh mixture of herbs and grains will grace your table, along with laughter and conversation. Explore South America and you will be granted a boon, in the form of potatoes, tomatoes, avocado and chilli.
Now we have more than just a mixture of raw leaves, oil and salt, pickles and grains. Boiled in wine or vinegar and spices, Spanish explorers first ate the potato in salad. Now it is eaten all over the world. Eat it in Germany, with vinegar and bacon, red onion, parsley and chives. Fly over to Sicily, add string beans, red onion, toss it with olive oil and vinegar. Take a trip to Syria, boil and toss them with tomatoes, fresh basil, parsley, mint, onion and green pepper, then season with olive oil, lemon, salt and black pepper. Or come back home, and dress it with mayonnaise, onion and boiled eggs.
The salad is enthusiastic, an expression of a history filled with companionship and thirst for adventure. You are not eating just salad. You are eating the product of hundreds of years of exploration, discovery and innovation. Your table is overflowing with history. Explore the world not just with your palate. If you are what you eat, then be a salad.