The recipe for my best salad ever - Grilled paneer salad with edible flowers
I love cooking for friends. They bring out the best dishes from my kitchen. Ajit & Nandini are always generous with their praise for my salads, often telling me to either open a salad bar or start taking salad making classes. While I've done neither, I love to up my game when I'm making salads for them. You see the effect of positive reinforcement right there :-)
Last weekend, they were planning to get an Asian starter and main course for dinner, so I promised to make an Asian inspired salad. I had made up my mind to use the edible flowers from my garden. Edible flowers are quite the current culinary rage with chefs using them as garnishes in salads, drinks to making whole dishes using them. I wanted to use the beans flowers, rocket flowers, basil flowers along with the baby leaves of Malabar spinach, cinnamon basil (tastes similar to Thai basil), regular spinach and baby bok choy leaves.
I collected the flowers in a little bowl, soaked them in cold water to refresh them and dried them on a tea towel. The baby leaves were washed delicately in cold water and dried on towels. The bigger lettuce, rocket leaves were washed, chopped into bite sized pieces and dried on towels. So yes, salads mean more work than other dishes. Leaves need to be carefully washed and dried, which is half the battle won. You could say that a salad spinner could simply this process so much. I whole heartedly agree, but somehow I haven't got myself one yet. I guess this is why salads are so overpriced in fine dining restaurants - the work that goes into the leaves.
And yes, I used paneer in this salad. Purists can turn up their noses saying "HUH Paneer in an Asian salad"! But hey, it's better to use paneer instead of not-so-good tofu and marinated in Asian flavours, it could beat the pants off any tofu.
Grilled paneer salad with edible flowers
6 big handfuls of mixed salad greens (prepared as explained above- baby leaves left whole & bigger leaves chopped into bite size)
1 large green bell pepper, very thinly sliced
1 small onion or 3 shallots, finely sliced
2 small carrots, peeled and thinly shaved
2 plums, thinly sliced
200 grams paneer, sliced thickly into 8 long pieces
Edible flowers (optional)
Coriander flowers, beans flowers, rocket flower, basil flowers - soak in cold water, drain and dry on towels. I also used rocket pods.
Marinade for paneer
1 tsp finely grated ginger
3 tbsp soy sauce
3 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tbsp sesame seeds
1 tbsp honey
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
big pinch of chilli flakes or chilli sauce as per taste
pinch of salt (if needed, as soy sauce has lots of salt)
2-3 lemongrass leaves, crushed
2 tbsp vegetable oil
Toss all the above in a large bowl and gently toss the paneer slices in this. Keep covered for 15-30 mins.
Marinade for salad - add all the following ingredients to a jam jar and shake well until you get an evenly mixed dressing
2 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp soy sauce
3 tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 tbsp honey
1/2 tsp grated ginger
1 garlic clove, finely grated
2 tbsp finely chopped coriander
freshly ground black pepper
Grilling the paneer
Grease hot stove top grill pan / grill / tava. Once the pan is very hot, place the marinated paneer slices (after removing the lemon grass stalks from marinade) in a single layer, press gently with a spatula and do not disturb for 1 minute or so, until the grill marks appear. Turn and grill other side similarly. Remove from the grill pan and keep aside.
To assemble salad
Place the prepared salad greens in a large bowl. Scatter the bell pepper, carrots, plums over the leaves. Pour 3/4th of the dressing and toss gently. Arrange this on a platter. Place the grilled paneer and top with edible flowers. Pour any remaining dressing & marinade over the top.
The paneer was the star of the dish, marinated in those Asian flavours and the stunning grill marks. The others lent an excellent supporting role and the dressing brought the whole dish together. A small note of appreciation for the cute flowers who added a lot of prettiness to the dish. We LOVED this dish and wished there was more :)