Every year we yearn for summer’s arrival. In mid-winter’s clutches we shiver like huddled penguins and strain to remember those warmer times. Winters last eternity, much like a never-ending winter in Game of Thrones. Slowly but surely our wishes have been granted and at last, it’s summer! And with it came the sweat. Was everyone else constantly sweating or was it just me? This is the season of barbecues, beaches… and sticking to chairs. The sizzling scorcher – yes, even in Manchester – was gently frying us like slabs of bacon and enough to make me rack my brains to remember winter again – ah the blessed cool! Sleeping with a duvet! Ah, we’re a fickle lot…
Now, though, we have some respite. Manchester is well accustomed to hammering rain bouncing off car roofs and pavements so this storm, along with ominous echoing thunder, is nothing new. We can now breathe a little easier, the air is no longer thick and stifling, and we await the return of summer’s heat, chunks of ice clinking in our drinks, fruity ice lollies melting down our fingers and fresh, crisp watermelon slices. That, and a private walk-in fridge to sit in.
The heat wave will return and with it picnics, cook-outs and food fairs. I am preparing with salad. Salads give a bad first impression. A little limp, a bit boring. However, no matter the season, they are actually an excuse to practice your creative flair. Summer salads are exceptionally wonderful because your fridge is likely to be crammed with fresh produce, only requiring a quick slice, a drizzle of dressing, tossed all together and there’s your dinner. Heaped into a bowl and served with some crusty bread, sharp cheese and a cold beer, this is what summer is about.
Anything goes! Say there is a bag of new potatoes and a couple of carrots in your vegetable drawer. These can be roasted with a glug of olive oil, some fennel seeds, before throwing them together with spinach, feta and herbs, maybe some spindly toasted walnuts. Additions such as toasted nuts and seeds, shavings of cheese, torn herbs, or grains such as buckwheat or pearl barley are worth that little extra effort to make your salad special. Last week I roasted a pepper that had been lingering at the back of the fridge for a couple of days. The next day, I peeled it and tore it into bite-sized pieces before chucking it in a bowl with shredded little gem lettuce, cucumber moons, avocado, and crunchy sugar snap peas.
Once you have the body of your salad ready it’s now time to think about the heart and soul: the vinaigrette. A basic French dressing requires 1 part vinegar to 3 parts oil. These can be any vinegars; white wine, balsamic, fruit, or citrus juice for that piquant bite. Likewise, oils are usually extra-virgin olive but don’t forget groundnut, rapeseed, sesame and truffle. When I’m stuck for inspiration I settle for the usual lemon juice, olive oil, a crushed garlic clove, a drop of Dijon and honey. Whisked together this is simple, satisfying and to the point. That said, these are only the essentials. You can play around with a myriad of different flavours to suit your tastes and the salad ingredients. For example – a salad of spiralised courgette and carrot, slivered spring onions, peanuts and coriander might require a dressing of sesame oil, lime juice, soy sauce, a dash of honey, and some crushed garlic and ginger. Those vegetable noodles are coated in the dark velvety dressing resembling a fresh, healthy chow-mein. Other dressings can include:
- Maple syrup and Dijon mustard
- Egg yolks, ground anchovy fillets and garlic
- Buttermilk, lemon juice and chives
- Passion-fruit, orange and honey
- Chipotle paste and lime juice
- Sherry vinegar and finely diced shallot
- Basil and chopped capers
Whatever your taste buds are craving add to the jug, taste and balance with salt and freshly ground pepper. It is summer, the heat of the day and the kitchen makes us lazy so why not just throw it all together and serve it with cold beer and crusty bread. With a meal like that we live for summer.