Updated: Jul 4, 2019
Salad season is upon us. As the days stretch out into balmy Summer nights it can sometimes feel like a punishment to turn the stove on and wilfully increase your already too-warm body temperature. And yet, it's easy to feel uninspired by what's been traditionally been labelled 'rabbit food', however much it winks at you from the produce aisle. While these additions will involve you turning on your oven, I promise it's the 'turn-on-and-walk-away-cocktail-in-hand' kind of cooking the warmer weather necessitates.
START WITH A SOLID BASE
The leaves aren't just the garnish so find your favourite flavour and run with it. Can't stand rocket? Give it a miss. Mealtimes are to be savoured, not dreaded. I've been enjoying butterhead lettuce - along with what seems like the majority of South London as it's been like hen's teeth to get hold of lately. Now, (wo)man can not leave by leaves alone so start adding your staples. I like juicy tomatoes, cucumber and beetroot. I normally mix a bowl to have on hand for a couple of days so I can grab it and go in the morning before I head out the door. Once your base is prepped - in all of 2 minutes - you're ready to customise.
These are a bit of a come-rain-or-shine staple in my fridge. I make them in batches of 9 and they are perfect for lunches or on the go snacking. They take minimal effort to prepare and are a great way of using up veg you'd otherwise be tempted to throw out.
Spray or grease a muffin tin. In a pan sauté your chosen veg - I opted for courgette, carrot and asparagus. Season and distribute evenly in your muffin tin. Add some cooked meat if you fancy - ham hock is a winner for me. Next mix 6 eggs together and season. For an extra kick I add some smoked paprika and Worcester sauce. Pour into your muffin moulds and bake in the oven at around 180 degrees Celsius for around 25 mins, or until risen and golden.
To test, press down on the top of a muffin. If it springs back up you're all set. These keep well for around 3 days in the fridge.
ZA'ATAR ROASTED CAULIFLOWER
I discovered za'atar on a work trip to the Middle East where this herby, sesame combination seemed to be sprinkled over everything. Roughly chop a red onion into wedges, grate the zest of a lemon and peel and crush some garlic cloves before setting aside. Separate a head of cauliflower into florets and briefly boil for around 3 mins before draining well and adding to a lined or greased roasting tin. Toss in your prepped veg, crushed garlic and zest and season with salt and pepper before adding a generous sprinkling of za'atar - 1.5 tbsp. Drizzle on some oil, squeeze over the juice of half a lemon and toss together. Pop into the oven - preheated to around 200 degrees celsius for around half an hour or until golden brown. Don't forget to stir half way through.
These protein-packed legumes are the perfect salad garnish, yet they also make a satisfying snack. Rinse and drain a tin of chickpeas and place onto a clean teatowel. Fold the towel over and lightly rub the chickpeas to loosen the skin. Discard this - removing it is said to make the chickpeas easier to digest. Try to ensure your chickpeas are as dry as possible. If you have the time, consider setting them aside while you get on with something else.
Next, mix your preferred spices together - I like za'atar, garlic salt, pepper and parsley but this would be great with a little chilli, too. Add your chickpeas to a roasting dish and drizzle with oil. Mix well before adding your spices and mixing together, ensuring everything is coated. Pop into the oven for 35-40 mins, checking half way through and mixing the chickpea concoction up to ensure even cooking.
SALAD LOVERS ASSEMBLE
Once everything is cooked and cooled down, you're ready to assemble. Add as much or as little to your base as you like and feel free to add other veggies and even fruit to the mix. A chopped up and baked sweet potato is a tasty addition. Short on time? One of the easiest ways to spruce up a salad is to add peeled courgette and carrot strips to your base, or even toss in some blueberries, strawberries or pomegranate seeds. I tend to have mine with a pretty basic dressing of balsamic vinegar and olive oil - have you a favourite dressing you'd recommend? Please do share it with me below!
See you next week, and don't forget to wear suncream in the meantime. It's getting hot out there!