Do you remember a time when salads were treated as little more than fibrous afterthought? A mandatory dish to ease the conscience when chomping on a 24-ounce Porterhouse steak? To be fair, those were also the days when a few insipid shreds of iceberg lettuce doused in Thousand Island dressing constituted a salad. What horror — and what a relief that times have changed.
Today, salads provide for some of the most enticing, satisfying eats around. Chefs are becoming increasingly creative, mischievous even, in how they marry vegetables and grains with proteins and fruits to create dishes that are nutrient-packed, beautiful to behold and utterly delicious. Here are 10 salads in Doha that always have me going back for more.
The popular U.S. food magazine Bon Appétit declared 2012 the year of the kale. It was simply inevitable after the curly leafed vegetable shot from relative obscurity to become the season’s wonder green. And yet, it remains rare in the Doha circuit. One great spot to try this is the art gallery café in The Pearl, which serves fresh kale with orange wedges, pomegranate seeds and orange juice.
The UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization, on the other hand, deemed 2013 to be the year of the quinoa. This supergrain also turns out to be super delectable, especially the way Spice Market serves it. Two kinds of quinoa and wild rice are roasted until crispy then tossed with pickled onions, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes and a citrus rice vinegar vinaigrette. In a word: marvellous!
Designed for a post-spa, post-workout meal that’s small in guilt yet big on taste, the menu includes the calorie information of every dish. The least calorific is the lean, green and purple beetroot salad with spinach, carrots and horseradish dressing – a mere 123 calories. For added flavour (and novelty), olive oil and balsamic vinegar can be added using spray bottles.
The list of ingredients in this Asian-inspired salad is numerous, but know that the predominant flavours come from roasted bamboo shoots and an abundance of scallions. Crunchy daikon radish noodles and citrusy prawns with a slight kick are other highlights. Best yet, Wagamama now delivers, so this salad can be enjoyed at the desk on a busy workday.
More pasta than salad but I’ll let that slide. Mushrooms, sweet peppers and peas are sautéed together before being tossed with farfalle and scallions. A balsamic vinaigrette replaces mayonnaise, while chunky strips of marinated chicken are grilled, not boiled. The result: a modern, tastier version of the traditional chicken pasta salad.
You couldn’t ask for a more balanced mix of flavours. The roasted pumpkins are sweet, the feta cheese salty, the sundried tomatoes tart and the rocket leaves bitter. This Jones classic can now also be customised for those looking to turn the salad into a complete meal, with the option of adding a protein: grilled lamb, roast chicken, pan-fried prawns or salmon. Quite brilliant.
If you’re fastidious about exactly what goes into your salads, Quick Bites could be your gold mine. The make-your-own concept is exceedingly popular, where you tick an order form choosing the leaves, veggies, cheese, protein and dressing. When I’m feeling lazy, I go straight for the Caribbean Salad, made up of mixed greens, hearts of palm and roasted onions.
A recent addition along the marina on The Pearl, this café lounge features trendy interiors and a menu of familiar flavours with a sophisticated touch. The house salad of baby spinach with fresh raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries raises eyebrows on paper but turns out to be a zingy delight. With candied peanuts thrown in, it effortlessly straddles the salad and dessert columns.
For those days when bread or pasta seem too heavy, I find the perfect compromise in couscous. The steamed semolina fills me up without bogging me down. This café from Lebanon serves it on a bed of mixed greens with corn salsa, roasted sweet peppers and thinly sliced chicken with oregano, while fresh mint leaves provide pleasant bursts of flavour with every bite.
This year’s winner of best steakhouse at the Time Out Restaurant Awards has a surprising soft spot for salads. There are at least eight bountiful options on the menu, many vegetarian-friendly. While the crab Louis and wedge salad draw crowds, the most unbelievable value is the house salad with a piece of steak grilled precisely to the temperature you request.
** A version of this article appeared in Time Out Doha **