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Enjoy your salad days
7:00am Saturday 21st July 2012 in NewsXtra
With beach holidays on the horizon, we show you how to get maximum taste out of the humble salad.
By Diana Pilkington.
Hands up anyone who goes into a restaurant with the good intention of ordering a salad but ends up tucking into steak and chips.
We all know a bowl of fresh vegetables is good for us, but sometimes life throws more tempting delicacies our way.
The good news is that salads don't have to be all about limp leaves and rabbit food.
In her new book The Perfectly Tossed Salad, author Mindy Fox shows how these platefuls of goodness can be versatile and tasty as well as ticking that all-important healthy box.
"I've always had a natural inclination towards eating healthy foods, but good health is not what primarily inspires me to make salads nor excites me about eating them," she writes.
"Instead it's the seemingly endless possibilities of what the dish can be - everything from a stunningly satisfying and gorgeous plate of raw vegetables dressed with good oil and sea salt to a more complex dish involving ingredients such as fruits, grains, cheese, eggs, fish, meat and more."
A salad can, she explains, be enjoyed at any time of year and either be used to brighten up a meal of many courses or serve as a meal in its own right.
Fox adds: "Great salads invite you to dispose of those admonishing health-watch do-and-don't lists and simply enjoy the pleasure of cooking and eating beautiful, healthy, vibrant seasonal food."
Get started with these tasty salad recipes from Fox's book...
Blueberries, feta and mint (Serves 4) 400g blueberries 20g mint leaves, large leaves torn 150g feta cheese, crumbled 4tbsp good-quality extra virgin olive oil Flaky coarse sea salt 1tsp whole black peppercorns, crushed Divide the blueberries among small, shallow serving bowls, then sprinkle with the mint and cheese. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of the oil over each serving. Crush several generous pinches of salt over each dish and sprinkle with black pepper.
Summer tomatoes, fresh herb leaves and barely pickled red onion (Serves 4 to 6) 1 small red onion, halved and very thinly sliced 1tbsp red wine vinegar Fine sea salt 1kg mixed heritage tomatoes, cut into 5mm wedges 1 medium cucumber, or 2-3 Persian cucumbers, very thinly sliced crossways 20g combination of mint, basil and/or tarragon leaves 2tbsp snipped chives Flaky coarse sea salt Good-quality extra virgin olive oil for drizzling In a small bowl, toss together the onion, vinegar and quarter teaspoon of salt. Leave to stand for 10 minutes then drain, discarding the vinegar. In a large serving bowl, arrange the tomatoes and cucumber. Scatter the marinated onion, herb leaves and chives over the salad. Crush several generous pinches of flaky coarse sea salt over the top then drizzle liberally with oil.
To barely pickle: The thin slices of red onions in this salad are pickled ever so slightly in a little vinegar and salt. There's just enough acid to tone down the bite of the onion, which some people find too harsh, without adding a strong vinegar flavour or dressing. This allows the tomatoes to provide their own acidity and juicy, bright flavours.
Pastrami and rye panzanella (Serves 4) 80g very thinly sliced red onion 155-160g cubed light rye bread 450g tomatoes, cores removed, cut into 2.5cm chunks 2 medium gherkins or 1 large European cucumber 2 celery sticks, thinly sliced Handful of basil leaves, large leaves torn 115g sliced pastrami, coarsely chopped Small handful of flat-leaf parsley leaves For the dressing: 1 garlic clove Fine sea salt 4tbsp extra virgin olive oil 1tbsp red wine vinegar Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 230°C/gas mark 8. Put the onion in a bowl and cover with 240-480ml of cold water. Swish the water around and rub the slices with your hands. Strain and repeat the process 2-3 times, allowing the slices to soak and changing the water at 10-minute intervals (soaking raw onion in cold water mellows the harsh bite).
Meanwhile, spread out the bread cubes on a baking tray and bake for 6-8 minutes, until the edges are crispy and golden. Transfer the tray to a wire rack and leave to cool completely.
Finely chop the garlic with a quarter teaspoon of salt on a chopping board. Using both the blade and the flat side of a chef's knife, chop and scrape the mixture into a paste. Put the oil and vinegar into a bowl, add the garlic paste and whisk to combine.
Combine the cooled bread cubes, the tomatoes and quarter teaspoon of salt in a large bowl. Toss to combine, gently pressing the tomatoes to release some of the juices.
Peel the gherkins or cucumber in a zebra pattern and cut on a diagonal into half moons. Drain and pat dry the onions. Add the onions, gherkins or cucumber, celery, basil leaves, pastrami and parsley leaves to the salad. Whisk together the garlic dressing, add it to the salad and gently toss to combine.
Fennel, olives and oranges (Serves 4 to 6) 2 navel oranges 3 small heads of fennel, including stems and fronds Flaky coarse sea salt 65g Gaeta or Kalamata olives, stoned and halved 60ml blood orange, tangerine or clementine Extra virgin olive oil Using a sharp paring knife, trim off the tops and bottoms of the oranges. Stand 1 orange on its end and carefully cut the peel and pith from the flesh, following the curve of the fruit from the top to the bottom. Working over a large bowl, carefully cut each section away from the membranes and drop the sections into the bowl. Repeat with the remaining orange (the membranes can be snacked on or discarded). Chill the orange segments in a covered bowl or sealed container in the fridge for 2 hours or up to 1 day.
Cut the orange segments crossways into 3-4 pieces each.
Cut the stems and fronds from the fennel bulbs, then trim the bulbs. Cut the bulbs in half lengthways, then thinly slice. Coarsely chop enough of the fennel fronds to make 2-3 tablespoons.
Arrange the fennel pieces on a large serving platter or in a wide, shallow bowl.
Crush several generous pinches of salt over the top of each layer, or just over the top if you have a single layer. Sprinkle the orange segments, olives and chopped fronds over the fennel, then drizzle the salad with the oil, and crush a few more generous pinches of salt over the top.
Roasted parsnips, toasted hazelnuts and lamb's lettuce (Serves 4) 450-600g parsnips, peeled and sliced lengthways 2tbsp extra virgin olive oil Flaky coarse sea salt 40g hazelnuts, finely chopped 2½tbsp good-quality balsamic vinegar 55g lamb's lettuce 2tsp good-quality extra virgin olive oil for drizzling Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 200°C/gas mark 6. Line a rimmed baking tray with baking paper.
Arrange the parsnips in a single layer on the baking tray, putting the smaller pieces in the centre (vegetables arranged closer to the edges of the tray will cook more quickly). Drizzle with the olive oil, then crush a three-quarter teaspoon of salt over the top. Roast for 15 minutes. Rotate the tray, turning over any parsnips that are golden on the bottom and moving darker pieces in towards the centre and lighter pieces out to the edges of the tray. Continue to roast for a further 10-12 minutes, until tender and golden.
Sprinkle the nuts over the parsnips and roast until the nuts are fragrant and lightly golden, about 3 minutes. Transfer the tray to a wire rack.
Put the vinegar in your smallest saucepan and, over a very low heat so that the vinegar reduces but does not burn, gently simmer until thickened and reduced by half, about 3 minutes (keep an eye on it as the reduction can happen very fast). Remove from the heat.
Put the lamb's lettuce in a large, shallow bowl, then arrange the parsnips and nuts on top, sprinkling them with any remaining oil and salt from the pan. Drizzle with the reduced vinegar, crush a few generous pinches of salt over the top and drizzle with the very good oil.
:: The Perfectly Tossed Salad by Mindy Fox, published by Kyle Books, priced £15.99. Available now. Photography: Ellen Silverman