The Contented Vegan Peg's Monthly Newsletter

Hello from London!

Just when I thought it would never happen, I opened the window one morning and discovered it was summer. It certainly kept us all waiting; but it cannot last, for the longest day has passed!

I notice that as soon as the days are longer than the nights, I become more interested in raw foods. I find myself making platters of crudités and jars of twenty-four hour pickles. Normally, I have greens two or three times a day; with the summer here, those have become salad greens more often than cooked greens. There’s always room for both, though.

Patrick has asked, ‘What’s the point of a warm salad, such as the Warm Broccoli Salad in your cookbook?’

It’s a good question! Usually we think of salads as cold meals; the thought of a warm one can seem odd. However, warm salads bring together those foods that need cooking and those that are generally eaten raw. Combining them, while the cooked ingredient is still hot, slightly warms the raw ingredients and releases their flavours and aromas in delectable ways. A raw ingredient often will become easier to eat after it has been warmed by the cooked food. Also, there are a few weeks in the year when a warm salad is a perfect bridge between two seasons. The cooked ingredient is warm and filling while the raw components provide the freshest, most tender additions that are delicious and packed with seasonal nutrients.

Hearty Cold Salads

Mixing substantial with delicate is a method that works in an entirely cold salad, too. You are likely to have had pasta or potato salads where those ingredients are cooled before any raw ingredients are added. Bean or grain salads (such as rice, quinoa or millet) are also examples of cold but substantial salads. All of these tend to store well for a day or two in the fridge. Perfect for summer!

It is worth remembering just how many foods can be eaten raw. Think of courgette/zucchini, turnip, kohl rabi, beetroot and cauliflower. These can be chopped, grated or sliced paper thin to add a wonderful depth of flavour and exciting textures to any salad.

Luscious Leafy Salads

Finely chopped onions are, to me, an essential ingredient in a bean or potato salad but I tend to leave them out of the lighter, leafier salads. Instead, I experiment with the base leaf, which typically has been a type of lettuce (iceberg, cos/romaine, oak leaf) and add fresh herbs and more exotic leaves to build flavours and texture. These salads are season-specific because the herbs and special leaves must be fresh; they are my favourite salads and can be sensational!

It is exciting to find combinations of herb and leaf that complement one another. Try the feathery leaves of fennel and dill, or pick half a dozen leaves of lemon balm, sorrel, nasturtium or purslane. Add home-grown herbs such as fresh basil, marjoram and thyme directly from your garden or windowsill. It only requires two or three favourite herbs to add great interest to your salads. Being so fresh, the flavours explode onto your palate… and the idea of salad is changed forever.

While lettuce is certainly a popular ingredient in a green salad, there are other leaves that can nudge it off its pedestal. Rocket, ‘baby’ spinach leaves and radicchio are widely available. Look a little harder to find red shiso leaves, land or water cress, dandelion leaves, endive or chicory.

Nutritious leaves sometimes can be foraged from patches of untended ground. Chickweed, lamb’s lettuce (corn salad) or burdock leaves are common, but there are many more. Foraging is a fascinating skill to acquire. First, be sure to learn how to select leaves from safe, unpolluted places and to properly identify each plant. Find a local, experienced forager to help you build competence.

Top of the Plant

We have travelled most of the way up the plant. Just flowers and seeds, now! You can add some of each to bring colour or crunch without overwhelming the rest of the salad. A good policy is to start with meagre amounts. You can always add more but, if you add too much, it’s difficult to take away.

Perhaps you have had salads that include pinenuts, sunflower or pumpkin seeds. You probably have heard of a Waldorf salad, which includes walnuts. Be inspired!

As for flowers, try courgette or nasturtium flowers, the lovely blue flower of borage or petals from wild rose, honeysuckle or lavender. These are beautiful colour accents, of course, but they are scented and delicious, too.

The Final Touch

A salad dressing can be as simple as a squeeze of lemon juice or as complex as mayonnaise. Don’t be intimidated! First, realize that you don’t always need a dressing. In some cultures, the salad is left ‘naked’ and the various other elements of the meal are served onto it. In others, the salad mops up the juices of whatever was served first, such as pasta with tomato sauce.

If you want to try your hand at dressings, here’s a formula: take 1 part vinegar to 3 parts olive oil. Measure the vinegar first, add a pinch of salt, a tablespoon of good mustard, some crushed garlic and maybe a little dried basil. Stir well, then add the oil and stir or shake to a thick consistency. This is only one idea, though. Yours might be better!

Until next time...



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