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JUST as spring heralds the start of salad season, the arrival of autumn usually signals its demise. After all that virtuous summer snacking on crisp lettuce, juicy tomatoes and spring onions we're quick to turn our backs on the lighter lunch or leafy side dish in favour of comfort foods that somehow seem to keep the cold at bay.

JUST as spring heralds the start of salad season, the arrival of autumn usually signals its demise. After all that virtuous summer snacking on crisp lettuce, juicy tomatoes and spring onions we're quick to turn our backs on the lighter lunch or leafy side dish in favour of comfort foods that somehow seem to keep the cold at bay.

While salad ingredients are at their peak during the warmer months, there's no reason why we can't enjoy healthy, colourful salads year-round.

Lettuce such as iceberg, romaine and Little Gem are in season from April to October, but Irish-grown round-leaf, sometimes called butterhead lettuce, is available throughout the year.

Salads needn't consist of lettuce leaves, of course - roasted vegetables, seafood, legumes and pulses all make a great foundation for a more robust salad - but one thing they should all have in common is a good dressing.

nectar

From tangy vinaigrettes to creamy classics, a well-made dressing can elevate a few simple salad ingredients into something lip-smackingly wonderful. In their simplest forms, oil and vinegar can be turned into nectar in minutes with a dash of seasoning or fresh herbs; switch around the type of oil and vinegar you use and you'll get a completely different result.

Good oils and vinegars can be expensive, so a book such as Louise Pickford's The Perfectly Dressed Salad cuts out the guesswork and is a good starting point for inspiration.

Offering 50 dressing recipes, it ensures we'll never get tired of eating salads, whether as a main meal or a side accompaniment to something larger.

The key to enjoying an autumn salad is using robust ingredients, and today's recipes feature two gutsy dressings that will still deliver that comfort food factor.

Try either of these piquant combinations and you'll realise that we needn't kiss goodbye to delicious, healthy salads just because the central heating is switched back on.

Recipes from Louise Pickford's The Perfectly Dressed Salad, with photography by Ian Wallace (Ryland Peters & Small, €14.50).


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