Image adapted from khawkins04The pressed salad represents everything traditional Japanese: minimalistic but stylized, simple but complex, easy but precise. And that fact should be no surprise, as the iconic dish has roots in Macrobiotic cuisine. Read on to learn what this beautiful salad is, and how to perfect it at home.

Unlike any other salad you’ve had before, the pressed salad has one very basic premise–to press the ingredients down, releasing their water content and making them more digestible, while keeping their raw, live enzymes intact. You can use any vegetables you like, tailoring it to the veggies of your choice and freshest at the market.  

The beauty of the pressed salad is that it has no sauce, no dressing and no fancy frills. But somehow in pressing the ingredients, giving them enough time to soften and meld into each other, they create a cohesive dish of round, gentle flavors. Perfect for those with sensitive stomachs, digestion problems or general vegetable phobia.

Here’s how to perfect this gentle and healing dish:

  • Start with your vegetables. You may use leafy greens like kale and collards, as well as anything seasonal, from carrots to turnips to radishes to onions. Slice your vegetables very thinly. Cut leafy vegetables into small pieces or thin julienne; slice thicker vegetables like radishes and carrots in very thin rounds. The thinner and finer the slice, the better. If you’re an herb person, finely mince leafy herbs of choice, such as basil, cilantro or parsley, and add those to the mix.
  • Toss your chopped and sliced vegetables into a very large bowl, the largest you can find. Now add salt–a good amount. For a large bowl of about 4 to 8 cups of vegetables, use about 1 teaspoon sea salt. This is a lot of salt, but don’t worry; its purpose is just to draw out water from the vegetables. Once the dish is finished, you can drain out the salty water from your salad. (In keeping with Macrobiotics cuisine, you may also use umeboshi vinegar in place of the salt. Anywhere from 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon umeboshi vinegar is a good jumping off point here.)
  • Massage the salt (or vinegar) into your vegetable mixture with your hands. Massage it thoroughly and deeply. Over the course of a few minutes, you’ll feel the vegetables soften slowly and eventually release their liquids. The salad will suddenly have a bit of liquid to it, as the salt draws out the moisture. This is good.
  • Place a small plate or bowl on top of the vegetables in your bowl. All or most of the vegetables should be making contact with the plate, being under it so that they may be weighed down with its pressure. Place a heavy object (such as a Mason jar, large carafe or bag of grains) atop the plate.
  • Let the mixture hang out on the countertop for at least a half hour and up to a few hours. Don’t refrigerate. As the salad sits and is “pressed,” it will continue to release water from the ingredients, breaking down starches and becoming more digestible and nutrient-available.
  • Once the salad is softened to your liking, it’s ready for you. You can eat is as is, or season it up with a very light vinaigrette–usually just fresh lemon juice, umeboshi vinegar and/or the tiniest drop of sesame oil will do the trick.

If this is your first time making a pressed salad, I recommend you try it without any finishing seasonings. Most people are surprised at how flavorful the salad is without any extra dressing at all. The vegetables–not quite raw, not quite cooked–take on a new flavor that’s really very pleasing. And if you’ve added herbs to the salad, it will have even more flare.

The pressed salad is truly an artful dish. Experiment with different ingredients to your liking, and learn to perfect the press. My favorite combination is thinly sliced radishes, green cabbage, green onions, carrots, parsley and cilantro. But it’s all good. I’ve never had a pressed salad I didn’t love at first bite.

Image adapted from khawkins04, Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0