A taste of summer: Darina Allen's favourite refreshing salads

Darina reveals her secret to a memorable, fresh salad and shares her favourite recipes for the perfect mixed greens dish.
A taste of summer: Darina Allen's favourite refreshing salads

This week I have a range of beautiful chunky salads that can be easily put together with the gorgeous summer produce that is coming in from the garden and greenhouse everyday.

Everyone on the farm and gardens continued to sow and plant for the past three months during the Covid-19 pandemic. They too are heroes providing nourishing nutrient-dense, super delicious vegetables and fruit to boost our immune system and keep us healthy. Now we are reaping the dedicated rewards of their hard work. 

Baskets of fresh peas, cucumbers, onions, broad beans, beets... the tomatoes have been ripening slowly for the past few weeks but now we have lots for the kitchens, farm shop, farmers markets and online NeighbourFood markets.

The field crop of flowery potatoes, a blight resistant variety called Orla, is ready. If you haven’t ever dug potatoes out of the ground, you haven’t lived! It’s a special ‘Woops in the tummy’ moment when you uncover those jewels under the stalk. Will it be one, or two or maybe five or six?


Everyday we have big platters and bowls of salads oozing with fresh flavours and vitamins and minerals, no need for supplements - this is the real thing. So what's the secret of making a memorable salad, apart from beautiful fresh produce of course, here are a few tips...
1. Think about a contrast of colour, texture and flavour - counterbalance of sweet, salty and sharp
and sour. 

2. Vary the greens from crunchy little gem, bitter and beautiful Castlefranco, radicchio, mustard greens, mizuna, tender butterhead, watercress, pea tendrils, peppery rocket and edible flowers. 

3. Add lots of fresh herbs, mint leaves, little sprigs of tarragon, coriander leaves, dill and a variety of basil leaves, purple Opal, Lemon, Vietnamese, Thai, Genovese basil, all produce a different burst of flavour. Even flat parsley and of course chervil.

4. Keep it chunky, a base of potatoes cooked in well salted water and tossed while still warm in a perky dressing can have a myriad of other ingredients added. Substitute potatoes with chunky roast beetroot, sweet potatoes, white turnips... Pasta, egg noodles, rice or buckwheat noodles are also great.

5. Don't forget the pulses, chickpeas, cannellini beans, lentils, dress with a nice dressing - a great foundation to embellish with summer vegetables, herbs and spices.

6. Grains and pearl barley must be soaked overnight to make them digestible.

7. Freshly roasted and ground spices also add magic to your salads and dressings adding the flavour of the East and Far East, India, Morocco, Mexico depending on the combination you choose.

8. Vary the dressings too, a basic French dressing of 3 parts cold pressed extra virgin olive oil and 1 part aged vinegar seasoned with flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper can be superb, depending on the quality of its oils and vinegars and then there's flavoured oils – hazelnut, walnut, avocado… Add a little honey, some excellent mustard, maybe some finely chopped shallot, crushed garlic and lots of fresh herbs - sublime to dress leaves or even a potato salad. The proportions could be 2-1 instead of 3-1 if you want a perkier flavour. But there's so much more, don't forget tahini, miso, pomegranate molasses, date syrup...Look out for Katie Sanderson's White Rayu Mausu. There are so many addictive hot sauces to experiment with now.

9. Sprinkle roasted, salted and toasted nuts and seeds over your salads - hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans, pistachios, sesame seeds, sunflower, pumpkin...

10. Dried fruits also add a burst of sweetness, extra nutrients and deliciousness - apricots, dates, dried cherries or cranberries, raisins, sultanas, currants, goji berries…

11. Crunchy croutons, seedy brittle or crispy chicken skin add magic too.

12 . Experiment with dressings, maybe natural yoghurt, lime and harissa, mayo, rice vinegar, grated new season's garlic… Combine grape seed oil, rice vinegar, miso and grated ginger. Experiment with different vinegars - white balsamic, apple cider vinegar, Moscatel vinegar. Don't forget a generous squeeze of lemon juice to cut the richness in a mayo dressed salad.

The world’s your oyster as salads are concerned – start with beautiful ingredients, be creative and adventurous. Experiment and taste, taste, taste.

Beetroot, Apple, Haloumi and loads of Herbs

If you can’t find Haloumi use chunks of Feta instead. Serves four.

Ingredients 

100g (3 1/2oz) red onion, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

1 teaspoon of runny honey

2 dessert apples, half inch dice

3 – 4 cooked beetroot, peeled and chopped (3/4 inch)

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

extra virgin olive oil

100g (3 1/2oz) approx. pomegranate seeds

125g (4 1/2oz) Haloumi, sliced (5mm/1/4 inch thick)

2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds

4 handfuls of rocket leaves

1 handful fresh mint leaves

1/2 handful dill sprigs

Method

Sprinkle the cider vinegar over the thinly sliced red onions in a bowl, drizzle with honey, toss. Dice the apple and beets – keep them chunky, season with flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add the pomegranate seeds to the onions.

Put a pan on a high heat, film it with a little extra virgin olive oil. Cook the Haloumi until golden on each side – 30 seconds approx.

Pile the rocket into a wide shallow dish, add most of the fresh mint leaves. Drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil. Top with apples and beets and some coarsely chopped or sliced Haloumi. Throw the pumpkin seeds onto the pan to toast for a couple of seconds in the residual heat. Meanwhile, drizzle the onion and pumpkin seed dressing over the salad, then sprinkle with pumpkin seeds and the remainder of the mint and sprigs of dill. 

Chicken Satay Salad

Ingredients 

2 organic chicken breasts or 500g (18oz) free range chicken breasts

extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon freshly chopped rosemary

salt and freshly ground black pepper

Spicy Peanut Satay Sauce Ingredients

This satay sauce recipe was given to me by Eric Treuille of 'Books for Cooks' in London can be made up to 3 days in advance.

Makes 250ml (8fl oz)

110g (4oz) peanut butter

1 garlic clove, crushed

1/2 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon Tabasco

1/2 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon runny honey

juice of 1 lemon

62ml (2 1/2 fl oz) water or coconut milk

2 Little Gem lettuces cut in wedges

1/2 - 1 cucumber, halved and sliced at an angle into 5mm (1/4 inch) pieces

flaky sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

small handful of fresh coriander leaves.

small handful of fresh mint leaves

75g (3oz) roast peanuts

4 tablespoons of crispy shallots

pomegranate seeds, about 4 tablespoons

Drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil over the chicken. Sprinkle with chopped rosemary. Season well with flaky sea salt and freshly cracked pepper. Cover and allow to marinate so the flavours can penetrate while you make the satay sauce.

To make the satay sauce, put the peanut butter, garlic, ginger, turmeric, Tabasco, oil, soy sauce, honey, lemon juice and water a food processor or blender; pulse until smooth. Cover and let stand for 30 minutes at room temperature to allow flavours to blend. It can be chilled or at room temperature. (Add a little more coconut milk if too thick.)

Heat a wide sauté pan, add a little olive oil, arrange the chicken in a single layer, cover and cook over a medium heat for 5 – 7 minutes or until cooked through. Alternatively cook in a roasting tin in a preheated moderate oven (180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4) until just cooked through but still nicely moist. Allow to rest while the salad is assembled. Cut in chunky bits, drizzle with the satay sauce, toss to coat and taste.

Mix the Little Gem lettuce, cucumber, coriander and mint leaves in a wide serving dish. Distribute the satay chicken over the salad. Sprinkle with toasted peanuts, crispy shallots and a few pomegranate seeds if available.

Enjoy with a little extra satay sauce if you wish.

Tuna, Butterbean, Cherry Tomato and Flat Leaf Parsley Salad

I like to cook the beans from scratch (see below). Cannellini or haricot are also delicious in this salad – a very inexpensive source of protein.

Serves 4

Ingredients

100g (3 1/2oz) red onion

200g (7oz) tuna

400g (14oz/1 tin) cooked butterbeans (200g/7oz dried)

250g (9oz) cherry tomatoes, halved around the equator

175g (6oz) of French beans, cut at a 4cm (1 1/2 inch) angle, blanched and refreshed in boiling salted water, toss when warm.

Dressing

6 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons of lemon juice

1 teaspoon of runny honey

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

A small handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped (1/2 for the dressing and 1/2 to scatter over the salad at the end)

Peel, half and thinly slice the red onion. Rinse in cold water and drain.

Meanwhile, whisk all the ingredients for the dressing together and add 1 tablespoon chopped parsley. Put the preferably still warm beans into a wide bowl, pour the dressing over and toss. Add the halved cherry tomatoes, blanched French beans, and tuna chunks. Stir again very gently. Taste, correct the seasoning if necessary – it should be highly seasoned. Sprinkle the red onions and the remainder of the flat parsley over the top and serve.

To cook the butterbeans – the day before, cover the butterbeans with plenty of cold water. Next day discard the soaked water, cover with fresh water, bring to the boil and simmer until the beans are tender (30 minutes approx. depending on the age of the beans). Top Tip – soak and cook more beans than you need for the recipe. They freeze perfectly and can be used in salads, soups and stews at a moment’s notice.

Shredded Cabbage, Carrot and Radish Salad with Gomasio

Simple but totally delicious

Serves 4 -6 

Ingredients 

4 cups of cabbage, shredded really thinly

1-2 cups grated carrot

1 cup thinly sliced radish

4 tablespoons approx. Gomasio (see recipe)

Prepare the vegetables and pop into a wide bowl. Sprinkle with gomasio and serve immediately.

Gomasio (pronounced gomazio)

A Japanese condiment – great to have in your pantry to sprinkle over rice, cabbage, eggs, roast vegetables, salads, even mashed potato – really good for the gut. You’ll find yourself reaching for gomasio regularly.

15 tablespoons white sesame seeds

1 tablespoon sea salt or Himalayan pink salt

a heavy iron pan

Put the heavy iron pan on a very low heat, add the sesame seeds. Slowly dry fry the sesame seeds shaking the pan continuously while pulling the seeds slowly towards you. The sesame seeds will very gradually change colour. It’s vital to keep shaking the pan so they colour evenly – this will take 6-8 minutes.

When the sesame seeds have turned a light golden colour. Pour out onto a wide plate and allow to cool. Add salt to the pan and toast in the residual heat of the cast iron pan for 2-3 minutes. Add to the seeds.

Tip into a food processor. In Japan they use a suribachi – Japanese pestle and mortar. Whizz to a coarse texture with a little powder. The aroma will be divine. It will keep in an airtight jar for 3-4 weeks if you haven’t already used it all.

Potato, Spring Onion and Marsh Samphire Salad

 Salty samphire is delicious added to the potato salad. The secret of a good potato salad is to use freshly cooked potatoes and then season and toss in French dressing while they are still warm. This simple trick makes a phenomenal difference to the flavour of the finished salad. I’ve had delicious results with both waxy (Pink Fir Apple or Sharpe’s Express) and floury (Golden Wonders) potatoes, though waxy are definitely easier to handle.

Serves 4–6

Ingredients

1.6kg (3 1⁄2lb) raw potatoes

salt and freshly ground pepper

3 tablespoons chopped chives or spring onions

3 tablespoons chopped parsley

150ml (5fl oz) French Dressing

150ml (5fl oz) homemade Mayonnaise, thinned with a little water

110g (4oz) marsh samphire, blanched

Wash the marsh samphire. Blanch in boiling water (no salt for 1-2 minutes). Drain and refresh in cold water. Drain again.

Boil the potatoes in their jackets in a large amount of well-salted water. Peel and dice the potatoes while they are still hot and put into a large, wide dish. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle immediately with the chives or spring onions, parsley and most of the samphire fronds. Drizzle over the French dressing and mix well. Leave to cool and then add the mayonnaise. Sprinkle the remainder of the samphire on top. Taste and correct seasoning.

Summer Fruit Salad with Lemon Verbena Leaves

I discovered this recipe which has now become a perennial favourite, quite by accident a few summers ago as I raced to make a pudding in a hurry with the ingredients I had at that moment. Fresh mint or sweet geranium leaves may be substituted for the lemon verbena in this recipe.

Serves 8-10

Ingredients

110g (4oz) raspberries

110g (4oz) loganberries

110g (4oz) redcurrants

110g (4oz) blackcurrants

110g (4oz) small strawberries, halved

110g (4oz) blueberries

110g (4oz) fraises du bois or wild strawberries

110g (4oz) blackberries

Syrup

325g (11oz) granulated sugar

8-10 lemon verbena leaves, plus extra to garnish

Put all the berries into a white china or glass bowl.

To make the lemon verbena syrup , put the sugar, 450ml (16fl oz) water and lemon verbena into a stainless steel saucepan and bring slowly to the boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Boil for just 2 minutes, then leave to cool for 4-5 minutes.

Pour the hot syrup over the fruit and leave to macerate for several hours. Remove the lemon verbena.

Serve the fruit salad with softly whipped cream or vanilla ice-cram or simply by itself. Decorate with a few fresh lemon verbena leaves.

Wild Food of the Week

Herb Robert - Geranium robertianum

Sometimes called Red Robin or Storksbill – used in traditional medicine. Good for toothache and nose bleeds. Rub on skin, the smell is said to repel mosquitos.

Hot T ips

1. The Crawford Cafe Gallery in Cork City has reopened with a full menu. Open Monday – Saturday from 11am – 4pm (also has some outside seating).

They will also be starting a click and collect service from mid-July offering a meal box menu, to heat up at home as well as a ready to eat takeaway menu.

2. Cider, Perry and Mór

Summer Series of Pop Up drinks talks and tastings in the Drinks Theatre at Ballymaloe on Saturday, 25th July at 5pm ( pre-booking essential - fully seated socially distanced and restricted numbers

First Event is a talk and tasting of cider, sparkling pear perry, apple icewine, apple pom'o port and Mór...

With Barry Walsh of Killahorra Orchards, Glounthaune East Cork and Rupert Atkinson of Longueville Beverages along with Eric Bordelet Normandy represented by Pascal Rossignol of Le Caveau.

3. Grow Your Own Food

Get organised for winter with a Garden Workshop: Grow 10 Types of Winter Vegetables, Friday, 7th August 2020 with Tom Petherick, consultant head gardener at Ballymaloe Cookery School Organic Farm and Gardens – Tom’s a brilliant teacher and has run his own organic garden for many years, is a broadcaster and gardening author of 6 gardening books.

Booking Essential (021) 4646785

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