It’s salad time and there’s nothing better for a light supper on a warm evening than a fresh salad with a celebrity touch.
Either start your meal with a salad in the American style, or after the main course in the French style, or alone if that’s enough to satisfy your appetite. I’ve written about my favourite ‘kitchen salads’ which get built from anything I have left lying around in the kitchen and Jamie Oliver’s cucumber and mint salad is reminiscent of such found ingredients. Yotam Ottolenghi, who has written vegetarian cookbooks and created salads galore, has put lots of thought into his salad, so it needs a bit more work to pull it off. Both are great additions to our salad repertoire and, as usual, I have not copied them exactly, but made them from scratch, using my own measures and proportions. If you follow these recipes faithfully, you’ll be sure of success.
Here are two fabulous salads selected from my wall of cookbooks, recently enjoyed, plus one more from my own book.
CUCUMBER AND MINT SALAD suggested by Jamie Oliver
I’ve been a fan of Jamie’s since his original Naked Chef TV show, where he cooked simple food for friends in his London flat, after shopping in the local markets. (Rather like my Market to Table series, with a lot more success!) He’s written a couple of dozen cooks, hosted many cooking shows and opened (and closed) a lot of restaurants.
- 1 English cucumber
- 1 cup fresh mint leaves
- 1 cup of baby arugula (rocket)
- 1 cup baby spinach
- 8 pitted black olives
- 6 TBSP EVOO
- 2TBSP lemon juice
- 1 TBSP plain yoghurt or sour cream
- Pinch sea salt
- Pinch ground black pepper
Preparation and presentation
- Peel the cucumber, halve it lengthways and use a teaspoon to scoop out the seeds, discarding them. A serrated grapefruit spoon works even better for this job. Chop the cucumber into bite-sized chunks and place in a bowl. Season with a good pinch of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
- Pick some leaves off a few sprigs of fresh mint and roughly chop them. Add them to the other greens and toss together with a little EVOO.
- To make the dressing whisk the remainder of the EVOO with the lemon juice until well homogenized. Then add a large tablespoon of natural yogurt and whisk again.
- Toss the cucumber chunks in the dressing until well coated.
- Plate the greens and add a big dollop of the cucumber mixture on top. Garnish with black olives.
FIG SALAD after Yotam Ottolenghi
Yotam Ottolonghi is an inventive Italian/Israeli chef also based in London, with a wide following, many cookbooks and six restaurants.
- 2 small red onions
- 1 ½ tsp EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)
- About ½ cup hazelnuts
- About 1 cup arugula (rocket) leaves
- About 1 cup basil leaves, torn
- About 1 cup watercress, stemmed
- 4 large ripe figs, quartered
- 1 ½ tsp EVOO
- 1 TBSP balsamic vinegar
- ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
- Sea salt and black pepper
Preparation and cooking
- Preheat the oven to 220°C/425°F.
- Peel the onions and cut into wedges. Toss in a bowl with 1 ½ tsp EVOO, a pinch of salt and a grind of black pepper and spread out on a baking sheet. Roast in the oven for 20 to 25 mins until soft and golden and crispy in parts. Set aside to cool and then pull apart into bite size chunks.
- Turn the oven down to 160°C/325°F. Scatter the hazelnuts in a small roasting pan and toast for 20 mins. Set aside to cool, toss them in a bowl to loosen their skins and discard. Then roughly crush the naked nuts with the flat side of a chef’s knife.
- Assemble the salad on plates: Mix the leaves together and place a few on each plate. Top and tail, then quarter each fig. Place them with some roasted onion on the leaves. Top with more leaves, then more figs and onions until you have a small pyramid.
- In a small bowl, whisk the remaining EVOO, the vinegar, cinnamon and a pinch of salt and a grind of black pepper together. Drizzle this over the salad and garnish with hazelnuts. Serve at once.
I’ll end with a salad that is a celebrity in it’s own right, perhaps the most famous American salad of all. Caesar Cardini was an Italian immigrant who ran eponymous restaurants in California and Mexico in the 20s, and is credited with inventing the dish in 1924. Many others also claim credit, including several members of his staff. On the evening of the invention, Cardini was apparently running short of salad ingredients and made do with what he had left, adding a touch of grandeur to this simple lettuce-only offering by creating the dressing table-side. Even today, a few restaurants still serve a genuine ‘Caesar’ like this, although its more likely created on the line using pre-made dressing. Quelle horreur!
That great cookbook author Julia Child said that she had eaten a Caesar salad at Cardini’s restaurant in San Diego when she was a child in the 1920s. Newspaper columnist Dorothy Kilgallen wrote in 1946: ‘The big food rage in Hollywood—the Caesar salad—will be introduced to New Yorkers by Gilmore’s Steak House. It’s an intricate concoction that takes ages to prepare and contains (zowie!) lots of garlic, raw or slightly coddled eggs, croutons, romaine, anchovies, parmesan cheese, olive oil, vinegar and plenty of black pepper.’ So even though it seems to have been around for ever, and sounds French, it’s just something else that started in California, created by an Italian. Who knew?
Whether you make the effort and entertain your guests by making it from scratch at the table, or prepare it all in advance in the kitchen, it’s worth the effort to create this simple yet delicious offering.
CAESAR SALAD created by Caesar Cardini
- 2 peeled cloves of garlic
- ½ cup of good olive oil
- 1 cup cubed French bread, sautéed
- 1 Romaine lettuce, or 2 hearts, washed, dried and broken into 2 inch pieces
- 6 anchovy fillets packed in oil, drained
- sea salt
- 2 large egg yolks
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, plus more
- ¾ tsp Dijon mustard
- 2/3 cup virgin olive oil
- freshly ground black pepper
- 3 TBSP Parmesan cheese, grated or shaved
Preparation and presentation
- Smash one clove of garlic and add to about half the olive oil in a pan. Bring to medium heat. Take the cubed French bread and sautée it in the garlic infused hot olive oil.
- At the table assemble your ingredients on a platter. Cut the other garlic clove in half and rub both halves around the inside of a large wooden salad bowl. Pour in the rest of the olive oil, smash the garlic and add to the oil. Add a pinch of salt and a little dry mustard (Dijon will substitute). Add the anchovy filets and smash them up well with a wooden spoon. Add a few drops of Worcestershire sauce (which is flavoured with anchovy, so not too much). Add the yolk of the egg and blend all the ingredients together. When the mixture is well homogenized slowly add the juice of a whole lemon, adding a little wine vinegar if the lemon is dry. Finally grind in a generous portion of freshly ground black pepper.
- Drop the washed, dried and torn romaine lettuce pieces into the bowl and toss so that the lettuce is well covered.
- Garnish with the fresh croutons and plenty of grated Parmesan cheese.
- Serve into individual salad bowls or plates and top with a grind of black pepper (optional).
OPTION: Add warm or cold grilled or poached boneless chicken breast, skinned and sliced.
SHAMELESS PLUG FOR MY COOKBOOK: How about a copy of my e-book Market to Table: The Cookbook as a gift idea for yourself, friends, family or anyone who loves to cook, now available on Lulu.com, i-Tunes and Amazon. If you click on the link to any of these online publishers you can preview the first chapter for free.
Categories: Simply food