Express your creative side, says Rachel Allen, and you can transform some humble greens into a warm and satisfying taste sensation. Photography by Tony Gavin
It may have been when Caesar first mixed his anchovies with some cos lettuce that a salad became more than just a few leaves with some dressing. Well, say, “Hail, Caesar!” I love to experiment with different ingredients in salads, and not be tied down to something light and green. Whether it has potatoes and sausages, or even bacon and egg, a salad can be inventive, filling and even warm.
It can be served as a side dish, or even as a main course — just keep the flavours and textures balanced, and get creative.
Leaves aren't essential to a salad, but I've included them in each of these recipes. At this time of year, I like to use robust salad greens — leaves that have the tenacity for such cold weather and that will stand up to other strongly flavoured warm ingredients without wilting. Mustard greens are one of my favourites. They can be quite hot, though, so I like to use them mixed with other less intense greens. Rocket is always worth including for its perfect pepperiness, while spinach makes a healthy and less assertive addition.
Dressings provide so much of the flavour to your salad that making a well-flavoured dressing is crucial. It's important to season your dressing well with salt and pepper. I like to use different oils or vinegars and, sometimes, I'll add sweetness with honey or even sugar. For the chorizo and potato salad recipe, opposite, I've used walnut oil, which has a potent flavour, so I've mixed it with olive oil.
The hazelnut oil in the kidney salad, opposite, nicely complements the hazelnuts in the recipe. If you can't get walnut or hazelnut oil, you can leave them out of either of these dishes and replace them with extra-virgin olive oil.
The bacon and egg salad recipe is a twist on the classic Caesar salad, which was actually invented by an Italian cook in America in the 1920s. It keeps that same rich dressing, but I really like the addition of the crisp bacon and a soft poached egg. I love to serve this salad with a slice of toast for a hearty brunch.
CHORIZO AND POTATO SALAD ( Pictured) Serves 4-6. For the dressing, you will need: 2 tablespoons walnut oil, see my Tip, above 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar 2 teaspoons wholegrain mustard 1 clove of garlic, crushed Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper For the salad, you will need: 2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into
cubes of about 2cm ( ¾ in)
200g (7oz) chorizo, cut into ½ cm slices A little extra-virgin olive oil for frying 4-6 handfuls of salad leaves (I like to use a mixture of mustard greens and rocket leaves) 50g (2oz) Parmesan cheese, grated, to serve First, make the dressing. Mix together the walnut oil, the extra-virgin olive oil, the sherry vinegar, the wholegrain mustard, the crushed garlic, and some sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Put a large pan of salted water on a high heat and bring it to the boil. When it is boiling, add the cubes of potato and cook them for three minutes. Drain and set aside. Put a frying pan on a medium heat and allow it to get quite warm. Tip the chorizo into the pan with a tiny drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and cook it for a couple of minutes, tossing once or twice, until the chorizo releases its oils. Spoon out the chorizo and set aside, leaving any oil in the pan. Turn the heat up to high. Add the potatoes to the pan and cook them, tossing them regularly, until they are cooked and golden.
Tip the chorizo back into the pan along with 2 tablespoons of the dressing and toss everything for a few seconds until the dressing has soaked into the chorizo and the potatoes. Turn off the heat and set the pan aside.
Put the leaves in a bowl and season them lightly with a pinch of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Drizzle some of the dressing over the leaves, and toss gently with your hands until the leaves are just glistening. You may not need all the dressing. Put the dressed leaves on plates, or on one large plate, then arrange the chorizo and the potatoes around them. Garnish with the grated Parmesan. Serve straight away. SALAD OF KIDNEYS WITH APPLES AND HAZELNUTS
For the dressing, you will need: 2 tablespoons hazelnut oil 1 tablespoon sunflower oil 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard Salt, freshly ground black pepper and sugar For the kidney salad, you will need: 1 dessert apple 2 tablespoons toasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped 3 lamb’s kidneys 2 tablespoons olive oil A couple of handfuls of winter leaves, such as mizuna, mustard greens and rocket To make the hazelnut oil dressing, add the hazelnut oil, the sunflower oil, the white wine vinegar, and the Dijon mustard to a screw-top jar. Shake well to mix. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and add a little sugar.
Cut the apple into thin wedges and mix with the roughly chopped toasted hazelnuts and 1 tablespoon of the hazlenut oil dressing. Use a sharp knife or some kitchen scissors to remove the skin and the fatty membrane from the centre of the kidneys, and cut the kidneys into small cubes of about 1-2cm.
Add the olive oil to a frying pan and place on a high heat. When it’s hot, add the cubed kidneys. Season with some salt and freshly ground black pepper, then cook, stirring occasionally, for 1-2 minutes, until the cubed kidneys are golden brown on the outside, but still slightly pink in the centre. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Toss the winter leaves in the remaining hazlenut oil dressing, then put the dressed leaves on plates. Divide the hazelnut-coated apple wedges between the plates, then add the cooked cubed kidneys. Serve immediately. WARM WINTER GREEN SALAD WITH CAESAR DRESSING, SMOKED BACON AND A POACHED EGG
Serves 4. The dressing recipe makes more than you will need, but it keeps in the fridge for a week, if covered. For the dressing, you will need: 100ml (3 ½ fl oz) sunflower or vegetable oil 25ml (1fl oz) extra-virgin olive oil 1 x 25g (1oz) tin of anchovies, drained and rinsed 1 egg yolk 1 small clove of garlic, peeled and crushed 1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard Pinch of salt ½ tablespoon Worcestershire sauce ½ teaspoon Tabasco sauce For the salad, you will need: 4 good-quality eggs 1 tablespoon sunflower oil, for frying 8 rashers of smoked streaky bacon,
cut into 1cm ( ¼ in) dice 4 handfuls of mixed lettuce leaves, including rocket and winter greens, such as baby spinach, mustard greens or beetroot leaves 50g (2oz) Parmesan cheese, grated, to serve 1 tablespoon chives, chopped, to serve First, make the dressing — you can do this either in a food processor or by hand. First, pour the sunflower or vegetable oil, whichever you’re using, and the extra-virgin olive oil into a jug.
If you’re making the dressing by hand, mash the anchovies with a fork, then put them in a bowl along with the egg yolk, the crushed garlic, the lemon juice, the Dijon mustard, the pinch of salt, the Worcestershire sauce and the Tabasco sauce. Whisk together.
As you’re whisking, add the oil mixture from the jug very slowly and gradually. The dressing will become creamy as the emulsion forms.
When all the oil mixture has been incorporated, whisk in 25ml (1fl oz) of water to make the dressing the consistency of double cream, then add some extra seasoning to taste.
If you’re making the dressing in a food processor, add the anchovies, the egg yolk, the crushed garlic, the lemon juice, the Dijon mustard, the pinch of salt, the Worcestershire sauce and the Tabasco sauce. Whizz together, then gradually add the oil mixture from the jug and the water, as previously described, pouring them in through the machine’s feed tube.
To poach the eggs, first put a saucepan of water on a high heat and bring it to the boil.
Meanwhile, pour the sunflower oil into a frying pan on a high heat, add the bacon and fry it for 3-5 minutes, or until it is golden brown and crispy. Drain it on kitchen paper and set aside.
While the bacon is frying, tear the mixture of lettuce and winter greens into large, bite-sized pieces and place a handful on a plate. Drizzle with 1-2 tablespoons of the dressing, then sprinkle with the crispy bacon pieces.
Once the egg-poaching water has come to the boil, turn the heat down to low. Crack each egg into the lightly simmering water and poach for 3-4 minutes, or until the white is set and the yolk is still a little soft.
Turn the heat off under the saucepan and carefully lift each egg out, one by one, allowing all water to drain from the egg. Arrange one egg in the centre of each plate of dressed salad leaves, sprinkle with grated Parmesan and chopped chives. Serve immediately.