The wonderful thing about making a salad is that it's a relaxed, stress-free way of cooking, with endless possibilities for customisation. By simply adding in a handful of toasted nuts, something sweet like sultanas, a few spoonfuls of chewy grains like barley or spelt, then a crumbling of cheese; a boring salad can start to look a lot more like dinner.
In Salad Feasts, Jessica Elliott Dennison guides you through the art of creating the perfect meal with 65 foolproof recipes that turn salads into flavour-packed, midweek meals. From a quick, 10-minute Radicchio, Stilton and Pear salad, to the fuss-free Hot and Sour Chicken in Gem Lettuce, each recipe provides alternative substitute ingredients that are designed to make your salad-making flexible and easy, no matter the season.
Including feasting menus to elevate your salads into occasion-worthy spreads, as well as a basic recipe formula to guide you, these are easy-to-assemble, delicious meals that transforms ordinary salads into extraordinary feasts.
After working for Jamie Oliver on the re-design and product development of his highly profitable food and homeware range, Jessica Elliott Dennison now works as a cook, food writer and stylist. Projects in Sydney and London have included: Waitrose, Sainsburys, Woolworths, Pip&Nut, Liz Earle, Courier, Observer Food Monthly, Dorset Cereals, Westfield and Diageo.
Author: Jessica Elliott Dennison
Blood oranges bring a very welcome injection of colour into grey, winter lunchtimes in Britain. I love peeling them open to discover whether they're purple and sweet all the way through, or slightly more acidic with a few light-pink blushes. They only have a short season, so throughout the rest of the year I use regular oranges or grapefruit to make this salad.
Tinned green lentils provide an easy, filling base for the sliced oranges, with shaved fennel delivering an aniseed note and the roasted hazelnuts some crunch. I use a few shavings of Manchego to naturally season the mixture, but you could use any hard, salty cheese that's in your fridge. Be sure to hold onto the juice that's released from the oranges as you prepare them on your chopping board; it's fantastic for dressing the peppery rocket.
80 g (3 oz) blanched hazelnuts (see tip)
1 large fennel bulb (ideally with a few fronds still intact)
2 blood oranges
2 x 390 g (13¾ oz) tins green lentils in water, rinsed and drained small bunch (15 g/½ oz) dill, leaves only, picked
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½–1 teaspoon sea salt flakes
100 g (3½ oz) wild rocket (arugula)
65 g (2¼ oz) Manchego
4 slices (300 g/10½ oz) sourdough bread (optional)
First, preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F/Gas 6). As the oven heats up, roast the hazelnuts in a single layer on a baking tray for 8–9 minutes until golden and fragrant. Transfer to a plate and set aside to cool. Wash the fennel under cold water, pat dry then slice lengthwise, as finely as you can (if you have one, a mandolin is handy for achieving really thin slices). Discard the white inner core and reserve any leafy fronds for garnish, and then transfer to a large mixing bowl.
Next, slice the top and bottom off the oranges and then carefully cut away the peel and white pith. Cut the flesh into horizontal slices then add to the fennel, along with any juice remaining on your chopping board. Ensure the lentils are fully drained then add to the bowl with the dill leaves. Drizzle in the oil, squeeze in the juice of 1 lemon (discarding any pips) and add ½ teaspoon of salt.
Using your hands, gently toss the salad, ensuring it's evenly coated. Check the seasoning; depending on the acidity of your oranges, you may want to add more lemon juice or salt (bear in mind that the Manchego will add saltiness too).
To assemble: Wash the rocket in a basin of cold water (this will freshen and crispen the leaves), pat dry then toss through the lentil and orange mixture and transfer to a large platter. Roughly crush or chop the cooled hazelnuts then scatter over, along with any reserved fennel fronds. Using a speed peeler or grater, shave over the Manchego to finish. Serve/eat immediately, with the bread to mop up those lovely citrussy juices, if using.
Green lentils: puy lentils, cannellini beans, farro, buckwheat
Blood orange: regular orange, ruby grapefruit (reduce the amount of lemon if using grapefruit as they are slightly more acidic)
Manchego: Parmesan, pecorino, firm salted ricotta
Tip: Don't worry if your hazelnuts aren't blanched. Just rub the nuts between some sheets of kitchen paper when they come out of the oven. This will wipe away most of the papery skins.
Watermelon is good mood food; brilliant eaten outside, somewhere warm and sunny. You'll see I quickly pickle the watermelon along with the red onion; not only to balance the salty halloumi and intense sundried tomatoes but because drawing out its naturally sweet juices helps to form a great dressing for the chewy spelt grains.
As is often the case, I go heavy on the herbs here, chopping a mix of parsley, dill and mint. By all means just use one or two kinds of soft herb if that's all you have to hand. Hopefully you'll agree this is a great dish to have in your collection for brighter days.
350 g (12 oz) spelt
3 tablespoons vinegar
1½ tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon sea salt flakes
1 small red onion, peeled and halved
150 g (5 oz) sugar snap peas
6 jarred sundried tomatoes plus 2½ tablespoons infused oil from the jar
250 g (9 oz) halloumi
1 small watermelon (450 g/1 lb flesh)
200 g (7 oz) radishes, thinly sliced
small bunch (20 g/¾ oz) flatleaf parsley, leaves only
small bunch (20 g/¾ oz) dill, leaves only
small bunch (20 g/¾ oz) mint, leaves only
juice of 1 lime
3 tablespoons dukkah (page 20; optional)
First, bring a large pan of water to the boil and cook the spelt for the time stated on the packet (around 16–18 minutes). Then refresh under cold water, drain and set aside. Meanwhile, stir the vinegar, sugar and half the salt in a large bowl. Slice the onion into half-moons, as finely as you can, and stir through the vinegar mixture to quickly pickle (this will make the onion turn bright pink).
Next, fill a frying pan (skillet) 2 cm (¾ in) deep with water. Bring to a rapid boil then blanch the sugar snap peas over a high heat for 1 minute. Refresh under cold water, drain thoroughly then set aside.
Wipe out the pan with a few sheets of kitchen paper then heat 1 tablespoon of the sundried tomato oil over a high heat. Crumble in bite-size chunks of the halloumi (discarding any liquid from the packet) and fry for 3–4 minutes until golden. Set aside.
Chop the watermelon into large chunks (discarding the seeds and skin) and add to the onion pickle mixture for 5 minutes. Roughly chop the sundried tomatoes and finely chop the herbs.
Place the spelt, onion and pickled watermelon (not the pickling juice), sugar snap peas, remaining tomato oil, radishes, tomatoes, herbs and remaining salt in a large mixing bowl. Squeeze in the lime juice, gently toss with your hands so that everything is evenly distributed then transfer to a platter. Top with the halloumi and dukkah, if using.
Spelt: barley, farro, freekeh, couscous, sugar snap peas, green beans, frozen peas
Halloumi: feta, Danish combi, salted ricotta (don't fry these, though)
Tip: If your watermelon is on the large side, why not scoop out and deseed the leftover flesh then freeze and blend into a slushie-style drink?
Author: Jessica Elliott Dennison
Photography by: Matt Russell