Regardless of the weather I always find that I just enjoy lighter food in the summer months. It may be simple conditioning or it could be my body wanting to shed all that was packed into it in the cold winter. For me this time of year always calls for lighter
meals and with the abundance of salad vegetables around there is plenty to choose from. However as a meat and fish eater I have no intention of eating like a rabbit and sometimes find it hard to get my head around making salads exciting.
Like everything it is only a matter of application. Once you take the time to think about it a myriad of possibilities enter the picture. You will find yourself looking forward to dinner and not just putting up with a little limp lettuce and a hard half of tomato with lashings of mayonnaise and fooling your brain into thinking you are eating something healthy and tasty. Ireland has really grown up when it comes to salad. No longer are we confined to potato salad with slices of cold corned beef, ham or chicken always accompanied by that limp lettuce and the hard halved tomato as mentioned above. Today we have great choice and taste. Crunchy romaine lettuce, soft lambs leaf lettuce, rocket and spinach leaves are all tasty alternatives in the green department. I am currently addicted to rocket leaves, and not just rocket, but a mixture of rocket and fresh coriander; it is nothing short of a revelation. You no longer have to put up with those un-ripened tomatoes that ricocheted around the plate when you tried to stab them with a fork; today the choice is immense. Choose from tiny baby tomatoes, delicious tomatoes on the vine, ordinary tomatoes or even sun dried are all readily available. Avocados, celery, red, white and green onions,
peppers of every hue and an abundance of nuts and seeds have all transformed the humble salad into a plate of natural goodness that can be enjoyed rather than endured. Thankfully the cucumber was vindicated in the recent European E-coli scare and despite the fact that we didn’t have any of the suspects on our Irish shop shelves, I know several people who were alarmed. The panic is now over and the cucumber was proven innocent of any wrong doing and is free to sit proudly in the salad bowls of Europe once more.
When it comes to meat I really want to encourage you to try cuts of hot meat with a decent salad and not just as a side dish; actually replace the spuds and cooked vegetables with something lighter. For a handy weekday meal try grilled pork chops with avocado and melon. (The recipe is below). Warm chicken salad couldn’t be easier and chicken works particularly well in the classic Caesar Salad, warm or cold. You can also try topping the meat with salad and this works particularly well with
steak and rocket leaves. Indeed a good steak, rocket, homemade salsa and a baguette gives you the chance to create a hearty steak sandwich. Topping cuts of meat with salad is seen as particularly ‘chefy’ looking and it’s a style that is quite popular at the minute in food magazines and restaurants. Make sure you let grilled meats stand for about five minutes before topping with any salad mixture and serving.
Skewers of grilled meat and fish also work really well on a bed of leaves and salad vegetables. You can add a Mediterranean feel by incorporating some fruit such as slices of orange or lemon. Don’t forget the old combination of apples, raisins and celery is still tasty today. There are also plenty of pickles and chutneys you can make ahead and add for taste value such as pickled cucumber which I eat with just about everything at this time of year or beetroot.
Cheese is another great addition to a salad. Greek feta cheese, grated parmesan or some grated cheddar can elevate the taste. Some people like to add a little knob of butter to a steak but why not substitute it for a little knob of cream cheese and lettuce
leaves or the classic stilton cheese with a little rocket on the top. Indeed a goat’s cheese, tomato and ham tartlet topped with rocket and coriander is a terrific starter.
Experiment with dressings, dips, temperatures and different combinations and if you come up with a particularly good one don’t forget to share it. You can contact me anytime on twitter.com/Pat_Whelan or email me firstname.lastname@example.org
We hope you enjoyed reading this post by Pat Whelan of James Whelan Butchers. Pat is a 5th generation butcher, cook book author and the director of James Whelan Butchers with shops in Clonmel, the Avoca Food Market Monkstown and Avoca Rathcoole. Sign up to our newsletter for more updates from James Whelan Butchers