As summer fades, there is no need to put the salad bowl away. Try throwing in more robust flavours such as wood sorrel — or mushrooms from the forest.
Low, golden September light and a slight chill in the air may not instinctively have you rushing to prepare a leafy salad, but this time of year has plenty to offer in combinations of rich, deep flavours. Think healthy-but-hearty, robust and filling salads.
So what exactly is a salad? For me, it is a dish made with a number of different components, some raw, mainly vegetable, brought together by a dressing. With autumn taking hold, it is time to swap in more earthy flavours, with bitter or spicy leaves and perhaps a more robust base. With a little more effort and creativity you can enjoy rock-star autumn salads.
Following our June sunshine and otherwise wet summer, this year has been the best I have seen for some time for wild mushrooms, so they should be readily available at the market. I have used chanterelles in my combination here, but ceps would do well, too. I added some wood sorrel, as it still carpets the forest where I live. It looks just like three-leaf clover but without the white markings and tastes like Granny Smith apples. Eat the stem and the leaf. It doesn’t just grow in the woods, it grows in damp mossy areas all over the place, even in the city.
The second salad I have suggested is made with celeriac, a gorgeous root vegetable and surprisingly delicious served raw. I have added pear for a little crisp sweetness, a yoghurt and dijon dressing, and endive and capers to give crunch and punch.
Here are six elements to consider before you make an autumn salad. Start with a robust base — don’t depend on lettuce as the main ingredient, but consider swapping it for something more filling such as chickpeas or beans, a grain such as freekeh (my favourite), bulgur wheat or even some torn-up bread.
Choose your greens wisely. While we still have some beautiful soft, green leaves in the garden like butterhead lettuce (always a winner), consider some peppery mizuna, or mustard leaves, or go for a bitter crunch with either chicory or radicchio with its striking colour.
Have a “hero” or two in your salad — this could be anything from some roasted root vegetables to an egg or some smoked fish — and build up flavours around that.
Along with considering the texture of the leaves, have a think about the other textures in your salad. If you are including softer elements like cheese or a creamy avocado it is important to add a little crunchy topper to keep it interesting. This could be toasted seeds, nuts, crispy dried shallots or crunchy bread. To pack a punch with some acid or salt, add some pickled vegetables, capers or olives. Small amounts of something a little acidic or salty will liven up each mouthful.
Dressing is often the difference between a good salad and a great salad. Play around with some different options such as a creamy base of tahini, yoghurt or buttermilk or try a deep, warm vinaigrette. Add some nut oils such as walnut to your regular go-to dressing to bring it into season or use some fruity vinegars for depth of flavour.
A Modern Way To Cook by Anna Jones
While it is also an engrossing and delightful read, Anna Jones’s wonderful A Modern Way to Cook is laid out like the workflow chart of a very well organised kitchen. She helps the reader by giving clear, uncluttered instructions and practical tips. Jones understands that her readers lead busy lives, but does not want them to compromise on delicious food. “Cooking a home–cooked meal everyday can have a massive impact on our minds, bodies and overall happiness,” she says — a sentiment I share completely.
For those who crave healthy meals that are completely enjoyable and not just part of a regimented diet, this is an essential addition to your kitchen. I am not a vegetarian, but because of this book I have cooked more vegetarian dishes in the past year-and-a-half than in the previous 10. The reader will relish Jones’s perspective and passion for food.
The book is divided into clever sections such as “investment cooking”, “40-minute feasts”, and “on the table in half an hour”, and also includes a vegan and gluten-free index. With recipes such as frying pan squash and cavolo nero pie, quick-pickled roasted roots, polenta and carrot-top pesto, and a range of “one- tray” dinners, Jones’s professional experience working for many years with Jamie Oliver and other high-profile chefs shines through. This book comes hot on the heels of her debut title A Modern Way to Eat and I await the next publication eagerly. (Fourth Estate, €32.50; easons.com)
Winter Chopped Salad with candied seeds
Serves 4 as a main
What you will need
1 romaine lettuce or a head of winter greens
A handful of pecans
A handful of pumpkin seeds
A splash of maple syrup
Salt and pepper
50g pecorino cheese (optional)
For the dressing
3 tbsp olive oil
The zest and juice of 1 unwaxed lemon
1 tbsp tahini
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
How to prepare
Peel and chop all the vegetables and the pear as thinly as you can, shredding the greens or lettuce especially thinly; a mandolin may be useful here, but a sharp knife will do just as well.
Put a sheet of greaseproof paper on a small tray or plate, then put the nuts into a frying pan. Toast briefly, then add the seeds and toast them until they smell toasted and are starting to brown. Add the maple syrup and a pinch of salt and stir. Then take the mixture off the heat, tip onto the greaseproof paper and leave to cool.
Mix all the dressing ingredients in a little jug. Put all the shredded veg and the chopped pear in a bowl, season with salt and pepper, pour the dressing over them and mix well. Shave over the pecorino, if using, and scatter over the nuts and seeds. Serve with flatbreads and a crumbling of feta or some torn mozzarella for a main meal.