Ingredients for a Raw kale salad with ginger, sesame and soy

The Cobb is one of my favourite salads, but not one you see often on menus (although there is news just in that the Garden restaurant at the Corinthia Hotel in Whitehall has a Cobb on the menu *grabs coat*). I first had one at an American restaurant in London in the 90s and it destroyed my aversion to salads in one mouthful. Chicken, bacon, avocado, eggs, croutons and leaves, with a punchy dressing. There may have been blue cheese in there too. It was a beacon of shining light in a drab salad world and it got me thinking.

The salads of my childhood were one-dimensional. Although my mum was a good cook, a tin of cold baked beans tipped into a bowl; overly hard boiled eggs, or iceberg lettuce, tomato and cucumber, were standard. The vinaigrette was Knorr, from a bottle (French or Italian, apparently, but they both tasted the same).

In barbecue season there was my sister-in-law’s seven-layer salad – Miracle Whip mayo between layers of lettuce, tomato, cucumber, onions, peas, eggs, with cheese and bacon crumbled on top, this clearly had its roots in the sublime Russian salad, another of my favourites.

The Russian is made with tinned veg – potatoes, carrots, gherkins, peas, etc all cut into small cubes and mixed with mayonnaise but with the addition of beetroot, sour cream and smoked fish and dill that takes it up a notch. I’ve had the homemade (tinned) version, which is delicious, but in a St Petersburg restaurant is the version I still dream of.

As a caterer I had to keep spinning the salad ingredient roulette wheel, often delivering  10 or more different salads to a single client.  So the repertoire expanded exponentially over the years and I am here to share my salad learnings with you, and three favourite recipes that show how versatile salads can be: one raw, one roasted vegetable and one grain-based.

When building a salad, always consider the final act:  the eating. Will it eat well, can I get something of everything in every forkful? Is there a good combination of colours, flavours, textures and temperatures?

The dressing can be a backing band or the star act. The kale salad dressing (below), with grated apple, sesame oil and soy sauce, makes you forget the main ingredient is raw kale, as all the flavours combine with sharp, salty sweetness.

Once you have mastered basic vinaigrette (in the sweet potato salad below), ring the changes by adding fresh or confit garlic, finely diced shallots, anchovies, buttermilk or yoghurt, pesto or sweet chilli sauce; fruit juice eg orange or grapefruit instead of lemon. Always taste and adjust the seasoning before serving – keep in mind whether the base salad is quite neutral and needs stronger flavours.

Top with crispy crumbled bacon, pickled or salted anchovies, preserved lemon, olives, capers, toasted nuts and/or seeds, croutons, fried onions or cheese. You could add fresh berries or fruit in season (for example baby spinach with red onion, orange and sesame), or char-grilled peach or nectarine with salty ricotta and peppery extra-virgin olive oil in a rocket salad.

Pimp your salad with a protein element:  cold or warm shredded roast chicken, smoked fish, a bbq lamb chop, some pan-fried haloumi or marinated tofu will make it a complete meal rather than a side dish.

So here are three of my most popular salads, chosen as they represent a cross-section of the genre – one raw and fresh, one cooked starchy base and one grain-based. If you’re really not a fan of quinoa then use brown rice instead, but give this one a go first, as it might convert you, as it has many others.

They are all vegan, wheat and dairy-free but can be accessorised with meat, fish, chicken or cheese! They benefit from being dressed in advance – the kale in particular, as the acid in the dressing breaks down the green leaves into more digestible fibre. And they will keep well in a sealed container for late-night fridge raids or lunchboxes.

You could also check out my Beetroot Couscous with poppy and nigella seeds, another colourful and delicious summer salad recipe.

Kale salad with soy, sesame, apple and ginger

Serves 6

400g organic kale, washed, stalks removed and finely chopped

3tsp ground cinnamon

2tbsp sumac

100g pumpkin seeds, toasted

100g sunflower seeds, toasted

Dressing

2  organic red-skinned dessert apples, grated

2 x 10cm pieces fresh root ginger, finely grated (use a microplane if you can, and catch all the juice)

2tbsp organic honey or agave syrup

1tsp dried chilli flakes

75ml light soy sauce

3tbsp olive oil

2tbsp sesame oil

2 limes, juiced

Method

Wash the kale, remove the stalks and chop finely (you can pulse in a blender, if you prefer)

Toast the pumpkin and sunflower seeds on a baking sheet at 170C for 10 minutes and set aside.

Combine the spices with the kale in a large bowl

Wash, core and grate the apple. Peel and finely grate the ginger – a Microplane grater is good for this (make sure you catch all the juice).

Juice the limes.

Combine the apple and ginger with the other ingredients in a bowl and whisk to combine. You can use a stick blender.

In a big bowl, pour the dressing over the chopped kale and use your hands to massage the dressing into the leaves.

Finally, add the seeds and a sprinkling of sea salt.

Quinoa with green beans, almonds and lemon

Serves 6 (with leftovers)

Ingredients

200g quinoa, cooked according to the packet instructions
100g green beans, finely sliced, blanched and refreshed
100g flaked almonds
Small bunch of parsley, finely chopped
Juice and zest of 2 lemons
1 garlic clove, crushed
150ml extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Method
Put the quinoa in a saucepan, add plenty of water to cover and a pinch of salt, bring to the boil and simmer for 20-25 minutes until the grains have swollen and absorbed most of the water. Drain and cover while it cools, to allow the quinoa to steam so the grains separate. It should be soft to the bite but not gluey.
Next, finely slice the green beans. Bring a saucepan of salted water to the boil and simmer the sliced beans for 2 minutes. Drain and immediately refresh under cold water to keep the colour.
Heat the oven to 160C and toast the flaked almonds for 10 minutes on a baking tray until golden (you can do this in a frying pan but watch they don’t burn!).
Finally, make the dressing that will bring the whole thing together.
Grate the garlic clove in to a jug, add the chopped parsley, lemon juice and olive oil and whisk to combine. Season to taste – the dressing should be salty, to season the other ingredients.
In a big bowl, toss together the quinoa, nuts, beans and dressing. This will hold for a couple of days in a sealed container in the fridge – it’s great for lunchboxes, as a healthy side dish with chicken or fish, and of course for a midnight snack.

Sweet potato and shallot with coconut and pea shoots

Serves 6 (with leftovers)

Ingredients
3 large sweet potatoes, peeled
2 medium shallots, finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
A small bunch of thyme, leaves only (or a tsp of dried thyme, oregano or mixed herbs)
A scant teaspoon of dried chilli flakes (to taste)
3 tbsp olive oil
salt
pepper

Dressing

50ml light olive or vegetable oil

1 tablespoon red/white wine vinegar

2 teaspoons Dijon or whole grain mustard

1 teaspoon honey or agave syrup

Salt and pepper

To serve

100g toasted coconut shards
80g pea shoots (most supermarkets sell these in the bagged salad leaf section) or watercress

Method
Preheat the oven to 170C/Gas mark 4. Peel and slice the sweet potato into 5mm thick coins (or chop in to big chunks). In a bowl, toss the sweet potato with the oil, herbs, chopped garlic, chilli flakes, sliced onions, salt and pepper. 
Line a roasting tray with baking parchment, add the tossed vegetables and roast for 20 mins. Gently turn the mix over and roast for another 10 minutes until the sweet potato and onions are just cooked but not falling apart (use a table knife to test whether they are done). The onions should be browned and tender. Leave to cool.
Make the dressing: Put all the ingredients in a jug or bowl and whisk until emulsified. Check seasoning.

Pour the dressing over the sweet potato and toss gently so the potato doesn’t break up.

In a large serving bowl, layer up the sweet potato and onion mix with toasted coconut shards and a handful of pea shoots, then repeat, finishing with the remaining pea shoots. You can add a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil over the top, if you like.

 

© Linda Galloway 2020