Friday, 07 August 2015

Turn over a new leaf

Serve up some interesting, healthy and delicious salads all year round, says Nicola Graimes

Written by Nicola Graimes
The days are long gone when the most exotic salad leaf available was the crisp iceberg lettuce. Now there are leaves of all shapes, sizes, colours and textures, from peppery mizuna to spicy watercress and lemony, sharp sorrel. Salad is so much more than a humble bowlful of lettuce leaves and the recipes in The Salad Bowl show a wealth of ways to make interesting, healthy, delicious salads. Creating a good salad is dependent on the quality of the ingredients. Choose local and seasonal fresh produce – organic is best. Wilted, damaged leaves and vegetables will obviously result in a lacklustre salad, which is deficient in nutritional value. Choose loose, fresh produce over packaged, so you can inspect what you are buying. Bagged salad leaves are often washed in chlorine before being packed and can be expensive to buy. Experiment with various types of leaves, offering a range of textures, tastes and colours. A sprinkling of fresh herbs and flowers, including marigolds, nasturtiums, violets, chives and wild garlic, add a visual and flavour boost.

Not just for warmer times, a leafy salad makes an ideal palate-cleanser following a substantial or rich meal; warm salads are perfect for the winter months. Grains, beans and lentils all make satisfying salads and are ideal for when it’s cold outside, or for transforming a side dish into a main meal. With imagination and creativity, the possibilities for feel-good food are almost endless.

The Salad Bowl by Nicola Graimes, with photography by Matt Russell, is published by Ryland Peters & Small, priced £14.99.

Baked goat’s cheese with honey-spiced beetroot (pictured above) 

Serves 4

8 uncooked baby beetroot, washed and trimmed
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil 
1 tbsp clear honey
1 tsp harissa spice mix
100g rocket leaves
60g pea shoots
2 red chicory heads, sliced 
4 tbsp freshly snipped chives
4 x 100g English goat’s cheeses, halved horizontally

For the dressing
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/ gas mark 6. Brush the beetroot with 1 tbsp of the oil and roast for 30 minutes until almost tender. Mix together the other tbsp of oil with the honey and harissa in a bowl, then season. Transfer the beetroot to the bowl and turn until coated in the honey spice mix. Return the beetroot to the roasting pan and roast for another 10 minutes or until tender.

Meanwhile, mix together the dressing ingredients and season. Arrange the rocket, pea shoots, chicory and chives on 4 plates.

Just before the beetroot is ready, place the goat’s cheese in a second roasting pan, skin-side down. Bake for 5 minutes until soft and starting to run.

Slice the beetroot into quarters and arrange on top of the salad, drizzle the dressing over and top each portion with 2 halves of goat’s cheese.

Pink trout, cucumber and apple salad

Serves 4 


4 pink trout fillets, about 560g total weight, rinsed and patted dry 
Sesame oil, for brushing
1 small cucumber
2 red-skinned apples, quartered, cored and thinly sliced
A little fresh lime juice for tossing the apple slices
1 small red onion, thinly sliced into rings 
2 tsp toasted sesame seeds
Handful of broccoli sprouts or micro herbs (see right)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the citrus and mirin dressing
Freshly squeezed juice of ½ orange
Freshly squeezed juice of 1 lime
2 tbsp mirin
½ tsp dried chilli flakes
3-4 tbsp tamari or light soy sauce, to taste

Preheat the grill to mediumhigh and line the grill pan with foil. Brush the trout with sesame oil and season. While the grill is heating, mix together all the ingredients for the dressing, adding the tamari to taste.

Using a vegetable peeler, slice the cucumber into ribbons, discarding the seeds when you reach the centre. Arrange the cucumber on 4 serving plates. Toss the apples in a little lime juice to prevent them discolouring and arrange on top of the cucumber.

Grill the trout, skin-side down first, for 6 mins, then turn over and grill for another 4-6 mins until cooked, depending on the thickness of the fillets. Peel off and discard the skin if you like, and leave the trout to cool slightly before placing on top of the apples. Top with the red onion rings, then spoon the dressing over. Finish with a sprinkling of sesame seeds and broccoli sprouts.

Micro herbs
These small plant seedlings can be combined with other salad leaves to add taste and texture, or simply sprinkled over the top of a salad as a final flourish. For their size, they pack a powerful punch – look for rocket, coriander, basil and parsley, or micro greens such as broccoli, spinach, fennel or mizuna.

Vietnamese-style beef salad

Serves 4


200g sirloin steak
2 handfuls of baby spinach leaves
1 carrot, sliced into thin strips
1 small cucumber, quartered lengthways, seeded and cut into thin strips
2 handfuls of finely shredded red cabbage
2 spring onions, thinly sliced diagonally
Handful of Thai basil leaves, roughly torn
Handful of mint leaves, roughly chopped
1 medium red chilli, seeded and thinly sliced
30g roasted unsalted peanuts, roughly chopped

For the Vietnamese dressing
3 tbsp groundnut oil
2 tbsp fish sauce
freshly squeezed juice of 1 lime
1 tsp caster sugar
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put the steak in the freezer for 30 mins to firm up and to make it easier to slice. While the steak is in the freezer, mix together all the ingredients for the dressing and season to taste.

Divide the spinach between 4 serving plates and top with the carrot, cucumber and red cabbage. Spoon enough of the dressing over to coat and toss lightly until combined.

Remove the steak from the freezer and using a very sharp, long-bladed knife, cut into thin, elegant slices. Place the cut slices on a plate and cover with cling film to prevent them discolouring; if you put cling film between each layer of beef, you will be able to separate them easily.

Arrange the steak on top of the salad, season and sprinkle the spring onions, herbs, chilli and peanuts over the top. Spoon more dressing over, to taste, and serve immediately.

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