Sweet! The Summer Salad season is here...
With just a small bit of prep, you can rustle up delicious salads in no time, with these three classics top of my list, writes Katy McGuinness Xxxx
Whatever the weather, these are the weeks that you don't want to be spending time cooking when you come in from work or from a day out with the family. It's peak salad season but, if your idea of a summer salad is a couple of slices of ham with some coleslaw, a few leaves of lettuce, and a dollop of salad cream, it's time for a makeover - that just isn't going to cut it any more.
With a couple of hours' preparation over the weekend, you can have a few different and delicious salads that'll take just 10 or 15 minutes to put together when you get home. If you double up on quantities then you've got the next day's lunch sorted too, just don't add the dressing until you're ready to eat.
I've picked three recipes that are great for family eating at this time of year.
Salad Niçoise is a classic recipe that doesn't show up on restaurant menus very often these days, which is a pity. Leave out the olives if you want, but buy the best quality tuna you can find - Ortiz is my favourite, but any good tuna in oil will be fine.
Everyone loves Chicken Caesar Salad. Homemade croutons are best - and a cinch to make (but pick up a packet if you must).
The dressing for the Asian Chicken Salad is designed to be family-friendly; up the chilli factor if you prefer something hotter. I like rice vermicelli noodles best in this dish, but you can use whichever type you prefer.
Get ahead by roasting the chicken for the two chicken salads, making the dressings and the croutons, and grating the cheese.
Keep everything in airtight containers in the fridge and then putting the salads together will be little more than an assembly job, with a couple of minor last-minute tasks before the meal is ready.
A word of warning: check your kitchen cupboards to see which ingredients you have already before heading to the supermarket. You probably have lots of them already and there's nothing as annoying as ending up with duplicates when you only need a small quantity.
All recipes serve 4.
500g waxy salad potatoes
220g green beans
2 x 160g cans tuna in olive oil
4 large hard-boiled eggs, sliced
4 medium ripe tomatoes, quartered
handful black olives, optional
4 heads little gem lettuce
I teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, minced fine
3 tablespoon white wine vinegar
150ml extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
In a jar, combine the mustard, garlic and vinegar. Add the oil, and shake. Season with salt and pepper to taste. The dressing will keep in the fridge for several weeks.
Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and set aside. Top and tail the green beans and steam until tender, about 3 to 4 minutes.
Toss them with 20g butter and season with salt and pepper. While still warm, slice the potatoes into discs and toss with 40g butter, season with salt and pepper.
In a bowl, add a few tablespoons of the vinaigrette to the tuna and combine, season to taste with salt and pepper. On each plate arrange little gem leaves, tuna, potatoes, green beans, tomatoes and olives, if using. Serve with the remaining dressing on the side.
Chicken Caesar Salad with Sourdough Croutons
Meat from half a roast chicken, in bite-sized chunks
2 heads romaine lettuce
100g Parmesan cheese, grated
½ loaf sourdough bread for croutons, sliced and cubed
50 ml extra virgin olive oil
2 anchovies, chopped small
2 egg yolks
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons lemon juice
½ teaspoon English mustard powder
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
½ tablespoon Tabasco sauce
175ml sunflower oil
50ml extra virgin olive oil
50ml cold water
Make the dressing by combining the anchovies, egg yolks, garlic, lemon juice, mustard powder, Worcestershire and Tabasco sauces in a bowl. Whisk together with a hand whisk and then very gradually add the sunflower and olive oils, a drop at a time to begin with, until all the oil has emulsified. Add the water at the end to thin the consistency. Season to taste. Note: There will be a good bit more of the dressing than you will need for four people, but it can be tricky to make in a smaller quantity.
Pre-heat the oven to 200C. Wash and dry the lettuce. Tear into manageable pieces. Toss the cubes of sourdough in olive oil and place on a baking tray. Cook in the oven until golden and crunchy - about 10 minutes.
In a bowl, place the lettuce leaves, chicken, half the croutons and half the Parmesan. Add about one-third of the dressing and toss. Add more if you like. Arrange the salad on plates and top with the remaining croutons and grated cheese.
The leftover dressing will keep in the fridge for a few days.
Chicken Noodle Salad
Meat from half a roast chicken in bite-size chunks
225g rice vermicelli noodles
2 spring onions, shredded
½ cucumber, cut into matchsticks
1 carrot, cut into matchsticks
1 red pepper, cut into fine strips
200g mange tout
1 long red chilli, seeds removed, inely chopped
1 handful each mint and coriander leaves
2 kaffir lime leaves, finely shredded
Juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon each brown sugar, fish sauce and soy sauce
In a small bowl, combine the dressing ingredients. Taste and adjust according to taste.
Cook the noodles according to the packet instructions, drain and refresh under cold water. Place the noodles, chicken, spring onion, cucumber, carrot, red pepper, mange touts, chilli, herbs and kaffir lime leaves in a bowl and toss to combine. Add the dressing and stir.
3 Vegetarian Salads
1 Combine cooked quinoa with feta cheese, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, radishes and parsley in a lemon and olive oil dressing for a punchy salad that's protein-rich.
2 Mix black beans, corn, avocado, cherry tomatoes, chilli and coriander with lime juice and a little olive oil for a Mexican-flavoured salad.
3 Roast cubed sweet potato tossed in olive oil with a pinch each of chilli flakes, coriander and cinnamon. Combine with baby spinach leaves, soft goats' cheese and some toasted nuts or seeds in a maple syrup, roasted garlic, wine vinegar and olive oil dressing for a hearty mid-week supper.
Taste test: Olive Oils
Salads mean salad dressing, and salad dressing means olive oil. While other oils may be better for cooking, as they have a higher smoking point, or are neutral in flavour terms, a good extra virgin olive oil is what you want for dressing and drizzling.
Speciality food stores offer a vast range of extra virgin olive oils, some from single estates. We tend to think of Italy when it comes to olive oil, and many experts consider oil from Liguria to be the best in the world, but don't be afraid to try oils from Greece, Portugal and Spain, which will tend to be cheaper.
Here we tested the basic extra virgin olive oils from the main supermarkets. All of the oils tested are 'superior category olive oil obtained directly from olives and solely by mechanical means' (that means no feet used in the extraction of the oil!).
With the exception of the oil from Dunnes, which is from Sicily and more expensive than the others, the oils are described as a 'blend of olive oils of European Union origin'.
Dunnes Stores Simply Better Sicilian DOP Val di Mazara Extra Virgin Olive Oil, €8.95/500ml 8/10
While this oil is more than twice the price of the others, and has coveted protected Designation of Origin status, the flavour is much better than the blended oils. For dipping or drizzling, the superior flavour of this Sicilian oil makes it worth considering.
Lidl Primadonna Extra Virgin Olive Oil, €3.29/750ml 7/10
The best by far of the generic EVOs, and an oil that you'll find in many chefs' kitchens. Good quality at a great price, and more than fine for most uses - good enough for dipping.
Aldi Solesta Extra Virgin Olive Oil, €3.29/750ml 5/10
A dull but by no means unpleasant oil - absolutely grand for vinaigrettes and other dressings with strong flavours, perhaps choose something more interesting for use on its own when the flavour of the oil is more noticeable.
Tesco Extra Virgin Olive Oil, €3.29/500ml 5/10
Almost indistinguishable from the Aldi oil, and adequate for everyday dressings.
Marks & Spencer Extra Virgin Oil, €4.19/500ml 5/10
Again, another generic EVO without much in the way of personality, a bit more expensive than the other supermarkets' oils without any better flavour.
SuperValu Extra Virgin Olive Oil, €3.09/500ml 4/10
The blandest of the oils tested. Not unpleasant, and fine for vinaigrettes and other general kitchen use.