WITH two of the hottest May bank holidays this year, our Lady must have been smiling on us. In the hope that this warm weather heralds a decent summer, it’s a time for salad.
The French concoct a “composed salad”, which allows for great diversity in flavour, texture, and colour. These recipes are like a colour palette; both quantities and ingredients can be varied. Don’t be afraid to experiment.
For a Green Bean and Tomato Salad, slowly reduce one 400g tin of chopped tomatoes in a saucepan until it is thick and quite smooth. Stir in a tablespoonful of red wine vinegar and leave to cool. Now, boil a quantity of green beans (about 300g/9 oz) for 3 minutes or so, then rinse them with cold water in a colander. Drain and rinse one 150g can of pitted black olives, chop one red onion and a clove of garlic. Mix the ingredients together with 200g (7 oz) of fresh anchovies if you can find them (canned are OK, and tuna also works). Pour over the tomato sauce with a 1-teaspoon slick of olive oil, then salt and pepper, and serve. Making up ahead and letting the flavours mingle will not hurt.
For this Spinach and Cauliflower Salad, take a head of cauliflower, broken down and trimmed into thumb-sized florets, with about 210g (7 oz) of spinach. Combine in a large bowl, adding 1 tablespoon of capers and the grated zest of a lemon. Juice the lemon and combine with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, a good twist of black pepper, and a pinch of salt; use this to dress the salad. Now take a 45g bag (at least, or up to 2 oz) of pork scratchings, and bash it with a rolling pin — maybe under a tea towel, in case it bursts. Sprinkle this “pork dust” over the top and serve.
A basic Greek Salad is almost equal quantities of tomatoes, diced cucumber, black olives, and feta cheese. Try to get the constituent pieces close together in similar-sized chunks, mix well with olive oil and maybe a scattering of oregano, sprinkle over some flaked salt and black pepper, and serve.
This one must be fashionable. At a parish lunch last year in north London, we had three different Watermelon and Feta Salad offerings. Here’s my take. Peel about 400g (1 lb) of shallots and slice into rings. In a mug, mix together in equal parts red wine vinegar and boiling water. Stir in 1 tablespoon of sugar with 1 teaspoon of coriander seeds, 1 teaspoon of peppercorns, and a sprinkle of chilli (powder or flakes). Put the shallot slices in a bowl, pour over the vinegar liquid, mix well and leave to cool under a towel, ideally for three hours or even made the day before.
Chop half a watermelon (this is relative, as they can be huge), and crumble about 400g (1 lb) of feta. Arrange on a large platter or in a bowl. Scatter over handfuls of mint leaves and cashew nuts (plain are best), and juice at least two limes on top. Again, this depends on how much melon you start with. Drain the shallots, and add, with a splash of balsamic vinegar. Oil is not always needed, because of the juice, but, if it is, add a tablespoon or two of sunflower oil.