I do love a salad. And I don’t mean a hamster’s plate of food. Oh no. You’ll never catch me nibbling on a lettuce leaf the size of a postage stamp and a bit of curly cucumber. Salads for me are about fitting as many different ingredients, colours and nutrients as I can into one bowl, coating them in a zingy dressing and making an infinite number of mini-meals with each forkful.
They key to making a sumptuous salad that can be assembled in minutes (I don’t have time to stand there slicing, chopping and grating!) is to have a good selection of both fresh and store-cupboard ingredients, and leftovers. Here are my super secret mix ‘n match salad-making tips (obviously they are not a secret anymore):
1) With my weekly shop I always, ALWAYS, make sure I buy a bag of mixed leaves – I like to vary my selection, this week it’s rocket, spinach & watercress, last week it was just rocket, – some cherry tomatoes, avocados and limes (for the dressing, see later). These make a good base.
2) Then I might some add other fresh vegetables like beetroot (either vacuum-packed or fresh, which I grate in the food processor!), carrots, cucumber, peppers, sugar snap peas, leftover roasted butternut squash to provide a good variety of colourful antioxidants.
3) And then perhaps the most important set of ingredients are the protein foods. These turn your salads into a real meal that will keep you full all afternoon. I like to add feta cheese, leftover chicken, hard boiled eggs, leftover quinoa (you can cook a batch and keep refrigerated, or buy it ready cooked), smoked trout, smoked mackerel, leftover salmon, buffalo mozzarella, ready-cooked mixed beans or lentils (such as Merchant Gourmet), sprouted beans and seeds (such as alfalfa sprouts, or Aconbury mixed sprouts from Waitrose)
4) Next are the store-cupboard ingredients which add yet another dimension to this multi-layered meal. Pumpkin, sunflower or sesame seeds, pine nuts (these can all be dry-fried for a couple of minutes for an extra roasty flavour), roasted red peppers from a jar, capers, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, caramelised onions (go easy, as they are quite sweet).
5) You might want to add some carbohydrate element such as cold brown rice, leftover noodles, new potatoes or roasted root veg.
6) And finally the dressing. My top tip is to always keep an empty jam jar for mixing the dressing, and use good quality cold-pressed oils from dark glass bottles. This preserves the quality of the oil and stops it from being damaged by heat, light or plastics. This is my current favourite dressing that I am OD’ing on a bit but I just can’t get enough of it. Again if you keep a well-stocked larder, you only need to add fresh lime juice (which, as you now know, is a staple ingredient of mine):
1tsp of Dijon mustard
pinch sea salt & black pepper
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
juice of 1/2 lime
6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp sesame oil
(the original recipe for this, from Thomasina Miers’ ‘Mexican Food Made Simple’ – a fabulous cookbook – also adds 1 tsp of demerara sugar, but I have taken this out)
Mix the mustard, salt, pepper, vinegar and lime juice in an clean jam jar, and give a good shake, then add the oils, and shake again. This makes enough for 2-3 days.
So these are my secrets for making amazing, healthful and varied salads. What’s nice is you can theme them to Asian-styled, or Mediterranean depending on the ingredients. You can add some ginger and chilli to a dressing to give it a kick. To give you an example of one of my delicious combinations, this is what I had for my lunch today. It took about 7 minutes to construct:
Large handful from bag of spinach, rocket & watercress
Some cherry tomatoes
1/2 an avocado (I cut one in half an scoop the flesh out with a teaspoon, then keep the half with the stone still in for tomorrow)
Some leftover sliced chicken breast which had been cooked in honey & chinese five spice (a Jamie’s 15-minute recipe from dinner!)
A vacuum-packed beetroot, chopped up
A handful of lentil sprouts (from Sainsbury’s)
Red peppers from a jar
Couple of handfuls of raw sunflower seeds
Above dressing, which I made yesterday
And then I try and make each mouthful different by creating little combinations on my fork. So chicken + beetroot + pepper; pepper + cucumber + avocado; leaves + avocado + lentils. It’s quite exciting. But then I don’t get out much.
Other delicious combinations include beetroot, feta and walnuts; mackerel, quinoa and pine nuts; chicken, rice noodles and toasted sesame seeds or why not make a nicoise with some leftover cooked salmon, green beans, new potatoes and hard-boiled egg?
If you’d like some other ideas for salads why not check out these posts as well:
Do try my spectacular salads and let me know how you get on!