Summer Salads


Lots of requests for Summer salads so this week I am going to write a short blurb for a change and include the maximum number of gorgeous Summer salads in my column.

But first a few tips…

Delicious as they are, let’s throw out our preconceived notions of traditional salads, and get wildly creative with both dressings and flavour combinations…..

Choose beautiful greens, not just a bag of mixed salad leaves. Seek out crunchy heads of Little Gem, speckled Castelfranco, bitter red chicory, Endive and Radicchio, peppery watercress sprigs, dandelion leaves, pea shoots, crunchy little romanesco florets….

Add lots of soft fresh herbs….  mint, chervil, coriander, basil, tarragon, can’t you just taste the combination.

Kale and Hispi or Savoy cabbage are transformed when sprinkled with flaky sea salt then given a good massage until they are soft and silky. 

Ramp up your dressings….

The classic formula of 3 parts oil to 1 part acid seems so samey…..

To add extra zizz, try a perkier 2 parts oil to 1 part acid, could be wine, cider, sherry or champagne vinegar or freshly squeezed citrus juice…

But let’s get extra adventurous… how about…

Natural yoghurt, lime and harissa….

Grape seed oil, rice vinegar, miso and grated ginger….

Mayonnaise, rice wine vinegar, garlic and gochujang…..

Extra virgin olive oil, cider vinegar and maple syrup…..

Roasting or grilling transforms vegetables like carrots, radishes, broccoli, cabbage or romanesco florets. Be bold, use a high heat for maximum caramelisation and sweetness.

Raddichio, chicory, kale and Romaine are also brilliant grilled. 

Some pickled vegetables – chillies, cucumbers, red onions, grapes, radishes, rhubarb really add extra oomph to a salad.

Think about texture as well as flavour. Add crunchy corn or potato chips, crispy fried onions or shallots or slivered garlic. 

Toasted walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, cashew nuts or roasted nuts are always a pleasing addition…

Crispy pork scratchings, garlic croutons or chunks of nut brittle can also be a delicious surprise. 

Shaved radishes, scallions, fennel, kohl rabi or beets submerged in cold water with lots of ice will crisp deliciously and can be done several hours ahead.  Add a dice of membrillo for extra sweetness and a little unexpected pop of flavour. 

Slivered chilli, salted anchovies or sardines or grated horseradish or burratta are also brilliant flavour enhancers.

Where to stop…really, the world’s your oyster so throw caution to the wind.  I also love to occasionally finish a salad with a little grating of lemon zest…..

Oaxacan Black Bean Salad with Corn, Avocado and Lime Vinaigrette

We love this perky Mexican salad and make it throughout the year with either fresh or tinned corn.

Serves 6-8

2 x 400g (14oz) tins black beans, rinsed and drained

or 450g (1lb) black beans, soaked overnight and cooked (see recipe)

175-225g (6-8oz) cooked fresh corn or corn niblets

2 red peppers, diced

2 cloves garlic, crushed or grated

2 tablespoons shallots, finely chopped

2 teaspoons salt

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

125g (4 1/2oz) chopped fresh coriander, plus more for garnish

2 ripe but firm avocados, diced (preferably Hass)


9 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon lime zest

6 tablespoons fresh lime juice

2 tablespoons sugar

To Serve

tortilla chips

Put the black beans, sweet corn, red pepper, garlic and shallots into a bowl.  Sprinkle the salt and cayenne and chopped coriander evenly over the surface.  Toss gently to combine. 

Mix the extra virgin olive oil with the lime zest and juice.   Add the sugar and whisk to emulsify.  Pour over the salad and toss.  Taste and correct the seasoning and add a little more sugar if necessary to balance the lime.

Just before serving, add the avocado dice, mix gently, being careful not to mash the avocados. Garnish with some more roughly chopped coriander.  Just before serving, fold some tortilla chips gently through the salad or serve as a side.  Serve at room temperature. 

How to cook black beans.

Soak the beans in plenty of cold water overnight. Next day cover with fresh water, bring to the boil and simmer for 30 minutes approx. or until just cooked.  Cook more than you need and freeze the remainder for another time.

How to Cook Sweetcorn

Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil, add salt.  Peel the ears of corn, trim both ends, drop into the water.  Cover the saucepan and bring back to the boil, cook for just 3 minutes.

Watercress or Rocket Salad with Manchego, Membrillo and Marcona Almonds

Another gorgeous combination…. the peppery watercress contrasts deliciously with the mild Manchego, crunchy almonds and sweet musky membrillo…

Serves 6

3 fistfuls of watercress or rocket leaves

150-175g (5-6oz) Manchego, diced and slivered

150g (5oz) membrillo, diced

110 (4oz) Marcona almonds, toasted at 170°C/325°F/Gas Mark 3 for 8-10 minutes and slivered lengthwise


2 tablespoons, white wine vinegar or sherry vinegar

extra virgin olive oil

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 clove of garlic, grated

1 teaspoon runny honey

Whisk all the ingredients together for the dressing.

Put the watercress or rocket into a bowl, drizzle with the dressing, toss lightly with your fingers until each leaf glistens with a light coating of dressing.  Add the cubes of cheese, toss gently and pile onto a shallow plate.  Sprinkle with membrillo, a few shavings of Manchego and toasted, slivered almonds.

Enjoy immediately.

Shaved Summer Roots Salad in an ice bath…

Serves 6

700g (1 1/2lbs) shaved vegetables – multi-coloured radishes, fennel, kohl rabi, white turnip, small crisp cucumber

110g (4oz) of walnuts or 150g (5oz) pistachio nuts

1 tin of anchovy fillets (8-9 fillets)

2 large garlic cloves

flaky sea salt

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

50 (2oz) Parmesan

freshly ground black pepper

chive and marigold petals if available

Slice the vegetables as thinly as possible on a mandolin.  Put into a bowl of iced water.

Preheat the oven to 170°C/325°F/Gas Mark 3. 

Roast the walnuts or pistachios until deep golden brown (8-10 minutes), shaking the tray occasionally.  Allow to cool and chop or crush coarsely.

Next, make the dressing

Mash the anchovies, add the garlic and pound in a pestle and mortar.  Transfer to a small pan.  Drizzle in the oil and cook for 2-3 minutes over a medium heat until the garlic looks toasty, add the freshly squeezed lemon juice, walnuts or pistachios. Taste, transfer to a jar.

Just before serving, drain the crisp vegetables really well.  Dry in a salad spinner.  Transfer to a bowl, add the dressing and half the freshly grated Parmesan.  Toss, taste and correct the seasoning.  Pile

onto a platter….

Sprinkle with the remainder of the Parmesan and scatter with chive and marigold petals if available. 

Roast Carrots with Labneh, Pistachio and Watercress

This salad is a game changer, inspired by a dish I enjoyed during my last visit to New York…

Serves 6

600g (1 1/4lbs) whole young carrots

4-6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

a generous tablespoon of honey

1 teaspoon cumin, roasted and coarsely ground

1 teaspoon coriander, roasted and coarsely ground

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1-2 tablespoons Aleppo pepper

75-175g (3-6oz) Labneh (see recipe)

watercress or rocket leaves

50-75g (2-3oz) pistachio nuts, very coarsely chopped

sea salt flakes

extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8

Scrub the carrots, dry, split in half lengthwise, if too big.  Put into a large bowl.  Drizzle with the extra virgin olive oil and honey.   Mix the roast and coarsely ground cumin and coriander together.  Sprinkle over the carrots.  Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, toss gently to coat evenly.  

Spread out in a roasting tin.   As soon as you put the trays into the oven reduce the heat to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6.

Roast for 10-15 minutes, turning occasionally until the carrots are almost tender and caramelised at the ends and edges.

Remove from the oven.  Sprinkle with Aleppo pepper and toss.

To Serve

Put a few watercress springs on a plate.  Top with 3-5 pieces of roast carrot.  Add a few blobs of labneh and scatter with a sprinkling of coarse pistachio nuts, a few flakes of sea salt and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Serve soon, best when the carrots are still slightly warm. 

Soft Yoghurt Cheese – Labneh

This thick, creamy, soft cheese from the Middle East is so easy to make and so wonderfully smooth that your friends will be mightily impressed if you produce it for a dinner party. This is an old recipe. I believe that dairy items like these were once made everywhere in Europe and elsewhere over many centuries and then forgotten at some stage, probably during industrialisation, so I have borrowed from those places where the traditions survived. Labneh is a real treat and an easy way to dabble in cheesemaking. It is also much-loved by children and is a good way for you to pass on your knowledge of old skills to them. It can be used for sweet or savoury dishes.

Use whole-milk yogurt for a creamier cheese – this can be made from cow’s, sheep’s or goat’s milk. You can also use commercial yogurt.

Makes 500g (18oz) labneh approx.

1kg (2 1/4lb) natural yoghurt

Line a strainer with a double thickness of sterilised cheesecloth. Place it over a bowl. Pour in the yogurt. Tie the four corners of the cheesecloth to make a loose bundle and suspend this bag of yogurt over a bowl. Leave it in a cool place to drip into the bowl for 8 hours. Then remove the cheesecloth and put the labneh in a bowl. Refrigerate overnight, and store until needed in a covered glass or plastic container. The liquid whey that has drained off can be fed to pigs or hens.


The labneh should be like softly whipped cream.  If thicker, simply stir back in some whey. 

Pan-grilled Summer Steak Salad

This salad always gets a brilliant reaction – everyone loves it. Omit the steak for a meat free version.

700-900g (1 1/2 – 2lbs) sirloin or fillet steak (at least 4.5cm/1 3/4 inch thick)

1 red onion pickled (see below)

8-10 sweet ripe cherry tomatoes

2 firm but ripe avocados

1 Romaine or 3 Little Gem lettuces

extra virgin olive oil

rocket and watercress sprigs

12 scallions or spring onions

110-175g (4-6oz) mild blue cheese (Gorgonzola, Crozier Blue or St. Agur)

Caesar Dressing (see recipe)

Season the steak generously on both sides with flaky sea salt and freshly cracked pepper. Cover and allow to sit at room temperature for at least an hour. Make the pickle red onions as per the recipe below.

Cut the Romaine into sixths lengthwise or the Little Gem into quarters. Slice the cherry tomatoes in half around the equator. Season with salt, pepper, sugar, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Make the Caesar dressing (see recipe).

Preheat a BBQ or a pan-grill on a high heat. Pat the steak dry with kitchen paper. Drizzle the steak with extra virgin olive oil. Sear the meat well on both sides and along the fat. Reduce the temperature and cook until medium rare. Transfer to a plate and allow to rest while you sear the Romaine or Little Gem on all sides. Clean the grill first, then drizzle the salad with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with flaky sea salt. Sear the lettuce chunks on a high heat until nicely charred on all sides. Transfer to a serving plate. Scatter with rocket and watercress sprigs.

Toss the spring onions in a little extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle with salt and sear on the heat. 

Cut the steak into 5mm (1/4 inch) thick slices across the grain. Scatter over the salad with the tomatoes, pickled red onions, avocado wedges, and crumbled blue cheese. Finely chop with charred spring onions and scatter over the salad along with some flaky sea salt and a few grinds of freshly cracked pepper. Serve with Caesar dressing and tuck in immediately while the steak is still warm.

Pickled Red Onions

450g (1lb) red onions, peeled and thinly sliced on a mandolin

225ml (8fl oz) white vinegar

110g (4oz) sugar

pinch of salt

3 whole cloves

1 cinnamon stick, broken

1 dried red chilli

Bring the white vinegar and sugar to a simmer with a pinch of salt and 3 whole cloves, broken cinnamon bits, dried chili, etc. Add the onions to the simmering liquid one-third at a time. As soon as the onions are pink and wilted, lift them out into a clean jam jar. Continue until all onions have been wilted. Cover the onions in jars with the brine. The onions should be pink and crunchy. Store in the fridge when cool.

Caesar Dressing

2 egg yolks, preferably free-range

2 tablespoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed

1 x 50g (2oz) tin anchovies

1 clove garlic, crushed

a generous pinch of English mustard powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2-1 tablespoon Worcester sauce

1/2-1 tablespoon Tabasco sauce

175ml (6fl oz) sunflower oil

50ml (2fl oz) extra virgin olive oil

50ml (2fl oz) cold water

You can make the dressing in a food-processor, but it can also be made very quickly by hand. Drain the anchovies and crush lightly with a fork. Put into a bowl with the egg yolks, add the garlic, lemon juice, mustard powder, salt, Worcester and Tabasco sauce. Whisk all the ingredients together.  As you whisk, add the oils slowly at first, then a little faster as the emulsion forms. Finally whisk in the water to make a spreadable consistency. Taste and correct the seasoning: this dressing should be highly flavoured.

Note: The remaining dressing will keep covered in a fridge for several days.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


Past Letters

  • Recipes