Paint your plate with colours of the rainbow with these nutritious summer salads

For nutritious summer salads that taste as good as they look, check out a new cookbook stuffed with recipes inspired by the Middle East 
Paint your plate with colours of the rainbow with these nutritious summer salads

FOOD TO GO: Nicola Crowley and Divir Nusery own and run Mezze in Tramore. The couple started selling their colourful salad selection at farmer’s markets in 2015.

"Salad that is served with lumps of egg and tomato and beetroot through it is a horror.”

In her 1963 book Monica’s Kitchen, Irish food writer Monica Sheridan had very definite ideas of what to avoid in a salad. Unfortunately for most of us, her advice didn’t filter through, and the salads of the 1970s and ’80s involved a lot of limp lettuce leaves, tasteless fridge-cold tomatoes and rolled-up slices of ham, with vinegary jarred beetroot bleeding all over proceedings. 

These were salads as penance - as Spike Milligan put it, the dreaded cold collation - or as diet food. Certainly not something to be enjoyed.

Thankfully, times have changed. When the first Avoca Café Cookbook by Hugo Arnold and Leylie Hayes was published in 2000, it had recipes for simple, fresh salads that were revolutionary at the time. 

Dishes like their broccoli, feta, hazelnut and cherry tomato salad or grated carrot with roasted sesame seeds (many copies of the cookbook fall open at these well-used pages) were a joyful introduction to salad plates around the country and we haven’t looked back since.

It’s something that Nicola Crowley, who owns and runs Mezze in Tramore with her Israeli husband Dvir Nusery, has particularly noticed. The couple started selling their colourful salad selection at farmer’s markets in 2015. 

Although Crowley grew up with Irish salads that just featured “lettuce, tomato and onion”, she says that the most popular salads at Mezze now are “our Moroccan carrot salad with harissa and our cabbage and poppyseed salad. They’re both raw with simple ingredients. Because these are the most popular, and the vegetables are available from our veg grower most of the year, we keep them on the menu every week.”

Fresh, quality ingredients are essential for a good salad, says Crowley. “We’re lucky that we work with local suppliers for most of our veg and it comes freshly picked from the farm. Then we add a few simple ingredients to make the salad. 

Our Middle Eastern take on salad gives a lot more variety: raw, crunchy salads with a little oil and lemon juice, or orzo salad with roasted root vegetables in pomegranate molasses, or potato salad with turmeric and coriander.”

We eat first with our eyes and being presented with a display of colourful, vibrant and creative salads - many of which are easy to make at home - is one way to whet the appetite. 

“I find that the way of eating salads mezze-style is best in that you have a few different salads with different colours, textures and flavours. It’s easy to eat salad when it’s like that,” says Crowley.

Crowley and her husband have just launched their first cookbook Mezze: Middle Eastern Food to Share, which features lots of salad recipes and delicious accompaniments. (Order at mezze.ie)

Making a salad nutritious

For dietitian Lauren Owens, a nutritious salad is all about balance. Her list of necessary elements includes:

1. A good source of protein: meats, fish, eggs, tofu etc.

2. Lots of colours: colourful vegetables and fruits - raw or roasted.

3. Healthy fats in wholefood form: avocado, good quality cheese, like feta, or a sprinkle of nuts/seeds.

4. Salads are a great opportunity to get some leafy greens in, ideally local greens: rocket, spinach, baby leaves for some antioxidant chlorophyll and beta carotene.

5. Be careful with shop-bought dressings - ensure they’re made with good quality oils. Healthy fats and oils, like olive oil, help with absorption of beta carotene for skin health.

6. A great way to bulk up salads to keep you going longer is by adding legumes - chickpeas/ beans or lentils - or roasted veggies like charred broccoli or roasted squash and sweet potato for slow-burning carbs and more fibre.

Top tips for the brightest and best salads

Think crunch Start with a base of raw veg. Chopped broccoli, grated carrot, shredded cabbage, thinly sliced beetroot or celeriac cut into matchsticks are all good ways to start your salad journey.

Pickle it If you are adding raw onions to salad, slice thinly and give them a few minutes soaking in lemon juice or the vinegar you’re using in the dressing. It improves the flavour - and the eating experience - immeasurably.

Fridge forage Roasted squash or root vegetables for dinner last night? They can be the starting point for today’s salad. #nofoodwaste

Remember texture If you want to add nuts or seeds, toast them beforehand to add flavour. Crunchy croutons, fried polenta cubes or roasted chickpeas add more interest. Thinly slice colourful radishes or sugar snap peas for a fresh bite.

Make it a meal Add protein and carbohydrates to fill you up. Chunks of rotisserie chicken, baked tofu or halved, jammy soft-boiled eggs are good, alongside grains like barley, bulgar wheat, rice noodles and wholemeal couscous.

Fermentation fun “Add a little bit of fermented foods for extra probiotic benefits and nutrition, for example, sauerkraut, probiotic yogurt dressing,” says Owens.

Dress with style Ditch the mayo and take a leaf from the Mezze kitchen using ingredients like “fresh lemon juice, Irish extra virgin rapeseed oil, sea salt, garlic and fresh herbs or spices”.

Go big Use a big bowl or platter to display your colourful salads. The better they look, the better everything will taste.

Moroccan Carrot Salad

recipe by:Nicola Crowley

This is an easy salad to put together and is a great crowd feeder. It keeps well too, so it’s perfect for lunches during the week.

Moroccan Carrot Salad

Servings

2

Preparation Time

60 mins

Cooking Time

15 mins

Total Time

1 hours 15 mins

Course

Main

Cuisine

Middle Eastern

Ingredients

  • 500g carrots (or 400g carrots and 100g turnip)

  • 30g fresh coriander, leaves and stalks chopped, plus extra to garnish

  • 1 garlic clove, crushed

  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin rapeseed oil

  • 1 tablespoon harissa sauce or 1/2 tablespoon shop-bought harissa paste

  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped preserved lemon (optional)

  • 1 teaspoon sea salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

  • 2 toasted flaked almonds

Method

  1. Peel the carrots (and turnip, if using) and grate by hand or in a food processor.

  2. In a large bowl, mix the grated carrots with all the remaining ingredients except the almonds.

  3. Leave for 1 hour (or overnight in the fridge if you have time) to allow the flavours to marry.

  4. To serve, garnish with the chopped roasted almonds and extra coriander leaves.

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