Salad time

Easily my favourite meal to make, above all else, is a really good salad. There are endless combinations of flavours, textures, and dressings, so no two salads need ever be the same. With each new season, there’s always a different ingredient to enjoy.

But let’s face it, salad has a bad rep. In so many settings, it has become narrowly defined as a combination of leaves – you know the type, usually the woody and bitter ends of frisee, or baby spinach, served alongside cherry tomatoes, cucumber, sometimes cubes of pepper and, virtually always, ungainly chunks of raw red onion.

Salads are seen as the ‘healthy option’; the sensible choice over the steak and chips you really want to sink your teeth into. But, if balanced, well-seasoned and generously dressed, and not a plate of cold soggy greens and grains, they can be enjoyable and satisfying too. The best salads: vibrant, tasty, and packed full of fibre and life-affirming nutrients, leave you wanting more (salad), and not because you’re still hungry!

So, let’s start with the basics. Here are some tips for making a delicious, simple leaf salad

  1. A good base – old school butterhead lettuce is economical, long lasting and has soft green mounds, with plenty of folds where your dressing can pool. Break apart the entire lettuce then wash it, spin it, and store the leaves in an airtight container in the fridge until you need it. This way, you save time and get a mix of inner and outer leaves in each salad.
  2. A tasty dressing and lots of it – with so many bottled varieties on sale you could be led to believe that making a salad dressing is a dark art. But, at its heart, a dressing is a combination of oil and acid. Olive, walnut, groundnut, sesame, or rapeseed oil all work well. Experiment by whisking in just enough white wine, cider, sherry or balsamic vinegar, lemon, lime, or even orange juice, with some salt and pepper, to form a smooth emulsion. Then you can have fun with crushed garlic, tahini, sumac, herbs or something sweet like honey, maple syrup or pomegranate molasses. Make enough for a few days, as it keeps well in a glass bottle at room temperature.
  3. Interest – at this time of year, make salads more substantial by adding lightly steamed veg – sprouting broccoli, asparagus or fine beans – or some roasted peppers or roast or griddled courgettes. Fling in a few frozen peas for sweetness and they’ll defrost by the time you’re ready to dive in. Bulk it up with a scattering of quinoa or pearl couscous.