Salads are marvellous. Everyone knows about their nutritional value but, using a few basic dressings, you can provide everything from a refreshing, palate-cleansing finish to a dinner, to a meal which is satisfying, varied and complete in itself.
Buy early-crop, thin-skinned new potatoes. Scrub and boil for 10-12 minutes in salted water, with sprigs of fresh mint. Drain thoroughly, slice, then toss, still hot, in a vinaigrette dressing. Chill in the refrigerator, and add chopped mint or chives just before serving. If you have no fresh herbs, finely chopped onions or spring onions also make a delicious potato salad.
Cold asparagus can be served with a vinaigrette dressing or mayonnaise.
Enjoy salad vegetables at their best. You will find a variety of lettuces: Cos and Webb’s have the best flavours and firmest textures. Look for curly endives and fresh, dark green watercress.
Handle green salad vegetables very carefully because they can discolour quickly Tear off outer leaves. Throw away bruised ones, but reserve tough leaves for cooking with sweet, young green peas and small onions. Lettuce can be used to make a cold summer soup, light and creamy.
Wash the lettuce well under running water, then drain or dry on a kitchen towel. Place in a polythene bag in the refrigerator. Make a vinaigrette dressing in your salad bowl and add the salad greens just before serving. Toss lightly to coat the leaves with the dressing.
As summer blends into autumn, you’ll find small, sweet tomatoes which have ripened late. Scald, skin, and peel. Place in a salad bowl which has been wiped around with a halved clove of garlic. Add orange slices, watercress and a vinaigrette dressing. Test for seasoning: you may want to add a little sugar and lemon juice. Chill before serving. Tomatoes and chopped spring onions also make a good salad with a vinaigrette dressing flavoured with mint.
You will find imported lettuces in the shops — but if they are tired and wilting, don’t buy them. Instead make use of the wide range of root vegetables. Shred a small white cabbage and add sliced apples. Stir in some mayonnaise, and add halved walnuts. Celeriac, thinly sliced, blends well with mayonnaise; grated carrot and turnip with a vinaigrette dressing.