How to make a great salad
Last week, in the middle of our heat wave, I was asked to go on the brilliant Woman’s Hour to talk about what I like to eat when it’s hot. My answer was easy: salad. (Listen again to the show here.)
A leafy salad is always a part of my day, be it all green, or combined with a few carefully chosen ingredients and thoughtfully dressed. A good leaf salad is all about the balance of the leaves and the perfect dressing. I favour cooling, calm leaves to make up most of the plate, with a scattering of hot, peppery, earthy or citrus notes. A good salad is all about each mouthful being unique; a pop of lemon, a crunchy leaf, the frond of a delicate herb. This is what makes a simple green salad, for me, one of the most pleasing things to eat.
I like to buy whole lettuces, cutting and washing them in one go, then filling a sandwich bag or the salad drawer with a few days’ worth of leaves, which stay crisp and cold in the fridge. There is a lot to choose from on the supermarket shelves: the bitter crunch of chicory, the soft frill of lamb’s lettuce, spiky rocket as hot as a peppercorns, sweet and crisp little gems, red-fringed cos …
Smacked cucumbers with orange and Sichuan pepper
Cucumber has been a staple in our house this past couple of years. It’s been chopped into batons and devoured by my son, the cooling crispness soothing his little teething gums. Dylan’s on to something, as when the weather heats up cucumber is what I crave: crunchy, refreshing and altogether summer food. Seek out the knobbly home-grown cucumbers if you can, as their flavour is much more intense.
This salad is my take on a Fuchsia Dunlop classic: orange and Sichuan pepper provide top notes and interest. It goes well with a bowl of simple honey and soy dressed noodles and a bit of crisped tofu, if you are after something more filling.
2 cucumbers (about 600g in total)
2 tablespoons flaky sea salt
FOR THE DRESSING
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
3 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
2 tablespoons brown rice vinegar
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon runny honey
a pinch of dried chilli flakes
1⁄2 teaspoon ground, toasted Sichuan pepper
the zest and juice of 1 unwaxed orange
50g peanuts, toasted and roughly chopped
Lay the whole cucumbers flat on a chopping board and bash them with a rolling pin all over (about 10 firm whacks should do the trick).
Cut each cucumber into quarters lengthways, then cut each quarter into roughly 1cm diagonal slices. Place the slices in a bowl with the salt and toss to coat. Set aside for 15–20 minutes.
Mix all the dressing ingredients in a bowl with a fork.
Drain the cucumber in a sieve to remove the excess liquid that may have been released, then toss in the dressing and scatter with the peanuts.
RECIPE: from The Modern Cook’s Year
IMAGE: Ana Cuba