Making Salads Super

Someone once told me that I make a good salad.

I laughed, thinking that there really couldn’t be anything easier to make than a simple garden salad, but having tasted some decidedly average ones, I realise it’s true – I do make a good salad.

Over the summer, we eat salads so often that I’ve had to come up with different variations to avoid getting bored. And because I sometimes forget that I need to save half an avocado for another day….there are times when I have to get creative.

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I give you, therefore, some simple tips for making salads super:

~ season a simple garden salad with salt and pepper, and it’ll transform it into something good; add a splash of olive oil and a splash of balsamic vinegar, and it’ll transform it into something great.

~ experiment with textures: add crunchy croutons, sunflower seeds, pumpkin kernels or crispy bacon. Bake ricotta for 15-20 minutes, then crumble in large chunks into your chosen lettuce leaves. Combine crunchy iceberg with leafy mesclun and baby spinach, or add raw sugar snap/mangetout or radish. Fresh herbs like parsley (I prefer the grassiness of the flat-leaf/Italian variety), chives and mint are a wonderful addition too, as are sliced sun-dried tomatoes, olives or gherkins.

~ instead of having salad alongside your meat of choice, make the meat the star of your salad. My favourites include hot- or cold-smoked salmon pieces, or barbecued then finely-sliced steak; served with fresh ciabatta or baguette and a crisp pinot gris…yum.

~ make your own coleslaw dressing: dissolve caster sugar (say, 1t) in red wine vinegar (let’s say 1t there too), then add a good mayo (2T? However much you need), and season. Leave for the flavours to develop before mixing into your shredded cabbage, carrot and red onion. Adjust the amount of sugar and vinegar to suit your tastes; way nicer than pre-prepared dressing.

~ if, like me, you’re not a fan of big pieces of raw red onion, you can blanch rings or wedges in boiling water for two minutes before adding to your salad. You still get the flavour without the nasty bite.

~ dress cooked new potatoes with a combination of mayonnaise and basil pesto (3:1), then add toasted pine nuts, fresh basil leaves, and shavings of parmesan cheese.

~ curb your roasted vege cravings by drizzling bite-sized pieces with olive oil and liquid honey, then roasting for 30-40 minutes until tender. Allow to cool before adding crumbled blue cheese (feta would be good too), and a dressing of olive oil, liquid honey, lemon juice and seasoning. I made this for our early Christmas dinner over the weekend and we all had second helpings….it was divine, if I may say so myself. I used parsnip, kumara and courgette, but any roastable vegetable would work.

~ play around with different dressings until you find something you like. Try adding dijon mustard and brown sugar to a basic oil/vinegar mixture, or add fresh orange juice as your acid. As long as you taste before adding to your vegetables, you really can’t go wrong.

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