I was recently asked to sit on the Food Committee at one of Manilaâ€™s oldest and largest sports and recreation clubs. At the first meeting I attended, we discussed the possibility of adding healthier, lighter dishes to the menu to match the trends in the everyday lifestyles of the burgis and less than famous. At any rate, there was trepidation about salads in particular as it was suggested that lettuce was difficult to find and expensive, and a kitchen would be hard-pressed to develop premium salads at less than PHP65 cost for retail at say PHP195. I wasnâ€™t sure why there was any fuss whatsoever so I took it as a personal challenge to prove just how easy it would be to create interesting, edible, tasty and modestly priced salads in the midst of the rainy season when greens are typically at their hardest to source and vegetables are scarce in general. So here are four salads that I made from 2 shopping trips of less than 30 minutes each and within 3 kilometers of the club’s kitchen…
Letâ€™s start with a mundane but delicious Insalata Caprese or Tomato and Mozzarella Salad. No mystery here at all, just delicious sliced tomatoes properly seasoned with good salt, sliced mozzarella (the best you can afford within pricing guidelines), slivered basil and a sprinkling of olive oil and freshly ground black pepper. It isnâ€™t too noticeable in the photo but this salad sits on a BUFFET plate so it is quite large. Marketmanâ€™s secret? Just ripen the tomatoes yourself. Buy nice tomatoes at the market at PHP120 a kilo and keep them out on your kitchen counter or inside a paper bag on top of your refrigerator (not inside) until they are juicy bright red. Trust me, this is the WORST time to buy tomatoes so if I can come up with a salad like this, anyone can. I wanted good mozzarella but couldnâ€™t find any so I used a Danish mozzarella that I wouldnâ€™t normally use. At any rate, the salad illustrates what can be done. I used 260 grams of tomatoes which cost about PHP30, PHP20 worth of cheese (hence the anemic strips), PHP1 of fresh basil and about PHP5 of olive oil and salt/pepper. Total cost PHP56 or USD1.
Next, I decided to do something a tad more sophisticatedâ€¦ mixed greens topped with some sliced pear and 5 thin slices of prosciutto with a vinaigrette dressing. I like this salad because the greens have different textures and flavors, the sweetness of the pear works well with the saltiness of the thinner than paper prosciutto. A simple vinaigrette marries it all together brilliantly. Again, this is a large salad on a buffet plate. Greens were just PHP18 for a generous amount, PHP7 for about 1/3 of a pear (nice juicy asian pear), PHP19 for the prosciutto (pricey but essential) and about PHP6 for the dressing. Total cost was PHP50 or USD 90 cents.
Third, I made a composed nicoise salad that could definitely serve as a meal. The salad had locally grown mini romaine (almost all hearts, the prime leaves near the center), canned tuna, quailâ€™s eggs, half a tomato, haricots verts, potatoes, artichokes and olives. Served with some French bread, this has to be the bargain of the four. PHP9 for the romaine, PHP8 worth of tomato, PHP10 for haricots (pricey but authentic), PHP3 potatoes, PHP10 tuna ( I normally use better tuna but this will suffice for the club crowd), PHP10+ for 1/8th artichoke and two olives (drop these if too expensive) and PHP8 for dressing. Total cost was PHP58 or USD1.05.
Finally, my fanciest salad of the four; smaller but delicious and just oh so much more sophisticated, for that beso-beso wannabee that sports workout clothing, expensive bottled water (probably re-filled) and outrageously expensive cellphone with 83 more features than s/he knows how to use. It is the same salad in the first photo up above. This is a thinly sliced fennel and citrus salad served over sharp arugula greens with a citrus and olive oil dressing. I used just 1/4th of a terrific fresh imported bulb of fennel (there is local as well but erratic supply), thinly sliced (use a mandoline if you want it to look like more), half an orange sliced, one segment of pomelo shredded (just because I happened to have it), orange juice from your cutting board, olive oil and arugula. PHP10 for the orange, PHP25 for the fennel, PHP15 for the arugula, PHP8 for the dressing, total cost of PHP58 or USD 1.05.
So there. Without much effort whatsoever I have made four different salads at a total cost of four US dollars with ingredients I have found in Manila. If I were challenged enough, I am sure I could have come up with another half dozen salads. A few months ago I also made a spinach salad with golden delicious apples that came to just PHP50 per serving as well. And just so you know, a nice large plate of mixed green with romaine, cucumbers, some asparagus and perhaps sliced peppers would only cost about PHP35 max so there is no reason that the hundreds of restaurants in Manila cannot offer a decent salad for PHP100 retail!