Once summer comes I whole-heartedly embrace "salad season". By this I mean a substantial salad which on its own constitutes a meal - such is my idea of the perfect summer meal!
Such a salad should, in my opinion, contain firstly some protein - this could come in the form of:
- Cheese - grilled haloumi, feta, blue cheese, brie, soft goats-milk cheeses, bocconcini or mozzarella are all great in salads
- Poultry - try chicken, duck or quail
- Fish and seafood - salmon, smoked white fish, prawns, lobster, crab, squid, mussels are all wonderful additions to any salad
- Meat - personally I don't use much meat in my salads other than perhaps some chorizo sausage or some crispy prosciutto or pancetta, but you could certainly experiment with the inclusion of some rare lamb or beef
- Nuts and seeds - I like cashews, pecans, walnuts, pine nuts, hazelnuts, almonds, pistachios, peanuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds
- Pulses - try chickpeas, lentils, cannellini beans, lima beans, borlotti beans
- And yes, if you must, tofu - I have to say it definitely wouldn't find its way into any salad of mine, but it would certainly be a good inclusion for those whose gastronomic ethos doesn't extend to the consumption of various other forms of protein and, apparently, some people even like it.
Secondly, I like a grain of some sort - noodles, pasta, rice, quinoa, couscous, croutons are a few suggestions. It is useful to know, if your diet doesn't include any animal products, that pulses combined with grains form a complete protein.
Thirdly, a great meal in a salad should have great texture and colour - consider the inclusion of some fruit (fresh or dried) and fresh herbs (mint, coriander, flat-leaf parsley, basil, tarragon are all wonderful in salads).
And lastly, your salad should have a great dressing which pulls the whole meal together - it's the dressing which really balances out all the ingredients you have chosen for your salad and creates beautiful layers of flavour.
Above all, don't be afraid to experiment and come up with your own wonderful creations. Like all experimenting in the kitchen, not everything will be a success, but along the way you will learn a great deal about flavours and textures that work well together, and you will without doubt get many pleasant surprises.
This particular salad was an exceptionally happy marriage of several things in my fridge and pantry that needed to be used up: a bag of calamari rings in the freezer, remains of a packet of Thai rice sticks in the pantry, a red chilli, half a bag of spinach, a bunch of asparagus, a handful of cashew nuts, an orange (in actual fact, if I'd been "planning" this salad I would have used a pink grapefruit, but an orange is what I had), and the remains of the Wagamama dressing from my last post. I didn't have any on hand at the time, but some fresh herbs would have made this perfect - coriander, mint, Thai basil or Vietnamese mint would have been ideal.
A word of caution: although this salad was a wonderful assemblage of some leftovers that I happened to have on hand, you do still need to think a little carefully about what you're putting into your salad - it shouldn't just become a "dumping ground" for everything you need to use up. That said, give this salad a try and go ahead and create some great salads of your own, and if you come up with a favourite of your own I would love to hear about it - leave me a comment or contact me by email - I really love to hear what's happening in your kitchen.
Chargrilled Calamari, Asparagus & Rice Noodle Salad Recipe
Click here for printable copy of this recipe
Makes 2 generous servings
300g calamari rings
100g Thai rice sticks (or other rice noodles)
1x red chilli, de-seeded and sliced
6-8 asparagus stalks
1x pink grapefruit (or orange)
handful of cashew nuts (roasted, unsalted)
2x generous handfuls of baby spinach
salt and pepper
fresh coriander or mint, approx 2T
Wagamama dressing from last post
Cook noodles in boiling water until soft, around 6-8 minutes. Drain and rinse well in cold water. Place in a bowl or spread on a serving platter.
Snap woody ends off asparagus stalks, toss with a little olive oil and a sprinkling of sea salt, then cook on a hot grill pan until lightly charred and just tender (but still with some bite). Alternatively, feel free to simply steam your asparagus if you prefer. Cut spears into 2-3 pieces.
Similarly, toss calamari rings with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and cook on a hot grill pan - this will take barely a couple of minutes.
Strew spinach leaves over the noodles.
Remove all skin and pith from the grapefruit. Then remove the segments of flesh from in between the membranes - do this holding the fruit over the spinach so that as you go the juice goes into the salad. Once all the fruit has been removed, squeeze the membrane over the salad to extract any remaining juice.
Distribute asparagus and grilled calamari evenly over the top of the noodles, spinach and grapefruit. Pour the dressing over everything, then sprinkle cashew nuts, chilli and chopped herbs over the top.