Almost anything can constitute a salad. Yes dictionaries variously describe salad as cold, consisting of raw vegetables, and featuring a dressing, and often these things are true — but not always.

For there are warm salads, salads with grains or seafood, and salads where the pairing of ingredients is so precise and perfect — think pear and Roquefort — that not even a dressing is required. For me what is essential about a salad is freshness and piquancy; it must be vibrant and sprightly.

If you need a rule of thumb though, to use when constructing your...

Almost anything can constitute a salad. Yes dictionaries variously describe salad as cold, consisting of raw vegetables, and featuring a dressing, and often these things are true — but not always.

For there are warm salads, salads with grains or seafood, and salads where the pairing of ingredients is so precise and perfect — think pear and Roquefort — that not even a dressing is required. For me what is essential about a salad is freshness and piquancy; it must be vibrant and sprightly.

If you need a rule of thumb though, to use when constructing your salads, think in terms of leaf, grain, protein, and dressing. So an assembly of rocket, quinoa and hot-smoked trout with a cream cheese and caper dressing one day; and lamb’s lettuce, bulgur wheat and grilled halloumi with a honey and smoked paprika dressing the next. Your protein might be cooked or raw, be meat, fish, lentils or cheese — the inclusion of crumbled feta, Boursin, or blue cheese adds seasoning and moistness and can sometimes make a dressing unnecessary.

When the weather is warm enough, you should expose your fennel, spring onions, courgettes and tenderstem broccoli to the barbecue grill as much as your meat. Even lettuce can be cooked to delicious effect as this recipe employing roasted little gems shows.

Do not limit yourselves to veggies, for fruit works wonderfully in salads: ripe peach, pear, melon, figs, mango and more. When the cherry season arrives combine them with pickled radishes, and watercress. Even the tried-and-tested combinations can be given fresh twists. Bitter leaves like radicchio with a citrus like blood orange is a classic pairing. Try adding some pomegranate molasses to the dressing to give an added dimension to the sweet, sour and bitter flavors.

salad

The classic tricolere salad of ripe tomato, buffalo mozzarella and avocado can be given a tangy saltiness with the addition of sundried tomatoes. Experiment with different heritage tomatoes too, like the Indigo Rose, though you will end up with something resembling not the Italian flag but that of Palestine.

You can create endless variations to your favorite combination of salad ingredients by making small tweaks to the dressing. Generally you will need a fat — a fruity olive oil, melted butter or even the fat from a roast. For sourness: a wine, cider, malt or balsamic vinegar, or lemon, lime or other citrus juice. The sweetness can come from honey, maple, palm sugar, jaggery or treacle. And heat can come from black pepper, mustard, fresh chili or ginger.

I make most of my dressings in a jam jar but a pestle and mortar works well too — do not be afraid to bash up your chosen herbs as you would with pesto. The green stuff can be both a salad base and a dressing ingredient: one of my favorite dressings is made by whizzing up big bunches of mint, coriander or even rocket in a food processor with Greek yoghurt, seasoning and a little extra virgin olive oil. Another favorite is the retro creation below – a simple combination of just two ingredients with a properly punchy dressing.

Broccoli and avocado salad

salad

Makes enough for 4

Preparation: 15 mins

This salad is a mainstay at the table when my mother is making anything Mediterranean. I like the fact that it uses raw broccoli, a vegetable most of us would not think to eat uncooked. The green afro soaks up all of the piquant dressing; an explosion of sharp and salty flavor which is then offset with the soft and creamy avocado. It goes without saying that your avocado has to be perfectly ripe. Otherwise you’ll be eating hard broccoli and hard avocado and wondering how on earth the first al fresco dinner of the year came to this.

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

2 sundried tomatoes (the properly gummy ones), finely chopped

½ teaspoon wholegrain Dijon mustard

½ teaspoon sea salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper (freshly cracked)

½ teaspoon dried oregano

½ teaspoon dried basil

1 tablespoon honey

1 small clove of garlic, minced

1 large head of broccoli, or 2 smaller ones

2 ripe avocados

  1. Combine all of the dressing ingredients in a jam jar and whisk until emulsified
  2. Cut your broccoli head into large-ish florets, about the size of a golf ball. Set aside the stalk, which you can use for something else
  3. Halve your avocados, remove the stone and skin and cut into inch-sized cubes. Place them, together with the broccoli, in a large serving bowl immediately before they discolor
  4. Pour over the dressing (you may not need all of it) and toss to combine. Serve straightaway

This article was originally published on Spectator Life.