Sometimes the most simple marriages of ingredients are the most rewarding. Knowing how to knock up a great salad means you’ll never be short of supper ideas on those nights when time is short and all that’s to hand is a jumble of ingredients. Slicing, dicing and chopping them into uniform-sized pieces and tossing in an aromatic dressing will transform even the most unlikely random variety. The ratio of vinegar to oil will depend on the ingredients you are gathering and will vary from one part to four or a third of vinegar to oil or half and half. It’s worth experimenting and tasting as you go to find out what you like best. Here are three favourite dressings plus a suggested salad in which to use them – just vary the main parts according to what you have in.

FRENCH

Pour 4 tablespoons of olive oil (see recipe tip below) into a jar, 1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard (or use ½ teaspoon of English mustard if you only have that to hand) and 1 crushed garlic clove; season with salt and freshly ground black pepper then secure the lid and shake well. If you find the Dijon hasn’t properly blended with the other ingredients, add 1 teaspoon of boiling water and shake again to dissolve it.

Serve with…

This riff on a Niçoise salad. Start by cooking the potatoes. Bring a medium pan of water to the boil. Cut 350g new potatoes into 2cm cubes by halving and quartering them through the length then chopping them once or twice again across the body. Cook in the pan for 8 minutes until you can stick the point of a sharp knife through them. After 2 minutes of cooking, add 2 large room-temperature eggs and cook for 6 minutes. After another 2 minutes, add 100g green beans, trimmed and chopped, and cook until tender. Drain everything well through a colander and rinse under cold running water. Set the colander aside and prepare the main salad ingredients.

Separate the leaves of 2 Little Gem lettuces, cutting the large pieces in half to even them out. Put them in a large wide salad bowl or spread over a flat platter and spoon over the cooled potatoes and beans. Next, top with 2 tomatoes, cut into wedges, 3 or 4 pieces of marinated pepper, cut into thin slivers, and a couple of spoonfuls of pitted olives.

Crack the shells of the boiled eggs and cut the eggs in half – the yolks will be firm with a slightly runny centre – and put them on top along with the tuna from a small tin (around 120g) of tuna preserved in oil (use the oil for the dressing – see above), then scatter over some freshly chopped parsley. Drizzle over the dressing and serve. Plenty for four people, especially if you add bread, too.

ITALIAN

Put 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 1½ tablespoons of white or traditional balsamic vinegar, 1 halved garlic clove and a sprig of basil into a jar; season with salt and freshly ground black pepper then secure the lid and shake well.

Serve with…

A heap of washed rocket (around 50g), 200g halved cherry tomatoes and 125g small mozzarella balls (either bocconcini or perle/pearls – drained weight). The role of the basil and garlic is just to impart their flavour into the oil and vinegar, so strain them out before using the dressing. Serves 4 with squares of focaccia or fingers of ciabatta.

GREEK

Pour 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil into a jar and add 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar, 2 teaspoons of freshly chopped oregano; season with salt and freshly ground black pepper then secure the lid and shake well.

Serve with…

Quarter six ripe and juicy tomatoes, then put them into a salad bowl. Add ½ cucumber, halved, deseeded and sliced into half-moons. Throw in around 50g Kalamata olives and 1 small sliced red onion. Pour over half the dressing and toss well. Put a 200g slab of feta cheese in the middle, spoon over the remaining dressing and let everyone dig into the cheese to divvy it up with the salad vegetables. Serve with warm pitta bread or those wonderful sesame-topped breadsticks.

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