Warm Salads: the easy way to ten-a-day

You can’t have missed last week’s headlines announcing that the five a day target needs to double. The New York Times led with ‘You’re going to need a bigger bowl‘.

The study found that up to 600g per person per day of vegetables leads to a reduced cancer risk and that 8oog reduced all cause mortality. Apples and pears, citrus fruits, green leafy vegetables, cruciferous veg and salads were all found to be helpful, with a particular emphasis on green-yellow vegetables and crucifers for cancer risk.

I know many readers greeted the news with dismay. It can be hard to meet those targets. For me, warm salads are a wonderful way to fill your bowl with vegetables in a way that doesn’t feel too worthy. Versatile and easy to prepare, you can knock one out in fifteen minutes from start to finish. There are lots of cook books dedicated to this sort of food (Ottolenghi and Peter Gordon probably do it best) but I’ve found that warm salads don’t really need to be planned, they can just happen.

There’s an art to balancing flavour and texture, cooked vs fresh, but you can’t go far wrong. They can run the gamut from dinner party glamour to kitchen sink simplicity. Here, I’ve included a specific salad on the simpler end of the spectrum that I put together with a few things that were in the fridge the other night – together with a more comprehensive and adventurous ‘recipe template’ for warm salads to inspire you to go off-piste and combine lots of lovely flavours to reach your ten a day target.

For the Salad Pictured Above

Ingredients (for 2)

  • 2 hard-boiled eggs
  • 2 gently poached organic salmon fillets
  • 15 cherry tomatoes. halved
  • 2 courgettes, cut into rounds
  • 1 red pepper, sliced
  • fresh thyme
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp sherry vinegar
  • 1 head lettuce
  • 4 handfuls rocket or baby spinach
  • 1 avocado, cut into chunks
  • 3 spring onions, finely chopped

Method

  1. It’s best to boil the eggs earlier in the day: I’m sure you know how to do that.
  2. When you’re nearly ready to eat, place the salmon, tomatoes, courgettes and pepper on a roasting tray, sprinkle with fresh thyme and finely sliced garlic, drizzle with olive oil, coat the vegetables and bake in a 180′ fan oven for about 20 minutes – until the salmon is just losing its transparency and turning flaky.
  3. Meanwhile, wash the lettuce and tear into bite-sized pieces, place in a bowl with the rocket, avocado and spring onions.
  4. Shell the eggs and cut them into crescents.
  5. When the salmon is cooked to your liking take the roasting tray from the oven, remove the salmon and put it to one side for a moment. Then add an extra slug of olive oil and the sherry vinegar to the roasted vegetables, stirring to coat them. You could also add some more fresh thyme or other fresh herbs at this point.
  6. Add the cooked and still warm vegetables to the leaves tossing everything together. The softer leaves may start to wilt but that’s OK if you’re ready to eat
  7. Finally add the eggs and flake the salmon on top of the salad before serving.

Recipe Template

Choose from the following ingredients

  1. PROTEIN #1: choose some cooked fish or meat – e.g. chicken, smoked mackerel, poached salmon, tuna, boiled eggs etc. – as the star of the show. Depending on what you’ve chosen and whether it’s fresh or leftover, decide whether to cook it, warm it or serve it cold.
  2. PROTEIN #2: the most delicious warm salads contain a second (and even third) protein option  in a smaller quantity but with a bit more flavour punch – e.g. small pieces of cooked chorizo, bacon or pancetta; crumbly salty cheese like feta, halloumi, pecorino or parmesan; some toasted or salted nuts and/or seeds.
  3. LEGUMES: depending on how many people you’re feeding and how full you want to feel, legumes can add a delicious texture and bulk to a warm salad: beluga lentils, butter beans, chickpeas, broad beans or peas, warm or cold.  Quinoa and sweetcorn work too.
  4.  GREENS: at the centre of any salad, the cooked greens in a warm salad can often be more interesting than conventional raw varieties.
    • COOKED: Think lightly steamed kale, cauliflower or broccoli, blanched mange tout or sugarsnaps, halved or shredded sprouts, very finely shredded cabbage (white or Savoy), or wilted spinach and baby leaves.
    • RAW: As well as all the usual salad greens like Cos lettuce, watercress, lamb’s lettuce, pea shoots, I find that radicchio and chicory sit particular well in a winter salad.
    • HERBS: Fresh herbs lift a salad into a different realm – tarragon, parsley, chervil, dill, oregano, mint and basil all work well. Hot flavoured leaves like mustard greens, rocket,
  5.  OTHER COLOURS & FLAVOURS: you’ve put your basic ingredients together, now to have some fun choosing some additional colours and flavours to bring it all together. The choice is endless but here are some ideas:
    • CHUNKS: cherry tomatoes, sun dried tomatoes, cucumber or courgette, chunks of roasted squash or sweet potato, beetroot, mushrooms or asparagus.
    • SHREDS: vegetables like carrots, beetroot and courgettes can be julienned or spiralled to add some colour and texture
    • SLICES: most veg magically transform if sliced very thin, tossed in olive oil and put into a hot oven for a few minutes: peppers, fennel, aubergine, courgette, onion, mushroom etc.
    • FRUIT: orange segments, mango slivers, pomegranate seeds, thin slices of apple or pear, all add sharpness and flavour. Orange, lime or lemon zest can work well too.
    • HERBS: fresh herbs add interesting burst of intense flavour: think basil, tarragon, dill, chervil, mint, oregano, parsley.
    • PUNGENT: some onion, leek, radish, fennel or smoked garlic adds a vital layer of taste. Other things like olives, capers, pickled onions or walnuts, green peppercorns can all add a  delightful flavour surprise if used carefully.
    • JARS: although I’m not a fan of processed food, I always keep a couple of jars of grilled peppers or artichokes in the larder that can add the final touch to a warm salad if the fridge is a bit bare.

Dressings

Although nothing beats really good extra virgin olive oil, I sometimes add a dash of sesame or hazelnut oil if it works with the other flavours. For the acidic element of the dressing I prefer sherry vinegar to balsamic, but I also keep rice vinegar and white balsamic handy, and frequently use orange, lemon or lime juice are useful too. Adding some mustard, horseradish or crushed garlic can work wonders. Sometimes I will use another soft squidgy texture to bind a salad, like yoghurt, mozzarella or avocado.

Method

The method is easy. Cook what needs cooking, chop what needs chopping, combine all, dress and serve.

Winning Combinations

Obviously the permutations are endless but here are some winning combinations that you can play about with:

  • Smoked mackerel, avocado, mango, little gem, watercress.
  • Chicken, chorizo, chickpea, fresh mint, courgette, kale.
  • Poached salmon, prawn, peas, dill, Cos lettuce.
  • Shredded pheasant or duck, pomegranate, sugar snaps radicchio
  • Tuna, hard boiled egg, mange tout, black olives, parsley (Nicoise)
  • Chicken, almonds, avocado, shredded savoy.

Reference

Aune, DGiovannucci, EBoffetta, P et al. (7 more authors) (2017) Fruit and vegetable intake and the risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer and all-cause mortality – a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. International Journal of Epidemiology. ISSN 0300-5771

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