By your leaves

Sal­ads can be sim­ple, but that doesn’t mean they lack flavour. Each mouth­ful can be unique; a pop of lemon, a crunchy leaf, a del­i­cate herb frond. In­tro­duce some more un­usual leaves to bring your sal­ads to the next level

The Guardian - Cook - - The Modern Cook - Anna Jones Anna Jones is a chef, writer and au­thor of A Mod­ern Way to Eat and A Mod­ern Way to Cook. (Fourth Es­tate); an­na­jones.co.uk; @we_are_­food

One salad grower gave me a hand­ful of leaves so dis­tinct and flavour­ful that they tasted like a cool sip of fizzy le­mon­ade

Each week, a small unas­sum­ing bag ar­rives in my veg­etable box, la­belled “Hack­ney salad”. The leaves come in pretty colours: pierc­ing greens, acid yel­lows, deep emer­alds and rich pur­ples. Each shade has a flavour so unique and so full of per­son­al­ity that eat­ing a sim­ple salad has be­come the leafy equiv­a­lent of a 3D film in sur­round sound.

De­pend­ing on the time of year, this Lon­don-grown salad from my lo­cal veg-box scheme, Grow­ing Com­mu­ni­ties, is an im­pres­sive mix. There could be any­thing from turnip tops, per­illa leaves or red-veined chard, to the rare and – to me – un­heard-of buck­ler leaf sor­rel. There are two other types of sor­rel (salt bush and com­mon, both sher­bety and le­mony), tiny, frilly baby kale, the grandly named salad bur­net and baby rain­bow chard. Not to men­tion lots of del­i­cate salad herbs such as chives, mint and mar­jo­ram to name just a few.

Smaller salad grow­ers are pop­ping up all over the coun­try and mix­ing their more com­plex and so­phis­ti­cated leaves with sim­pler va­ri­eties. One Corn­wall salad grower once gave me a tiny hand­ful of leaves so dis­tinct and flavour­ful that they tasted like a cool sip of fizzy le­mon­ade.

But even with leaves from a lo­cal su­per­mar­ket comes the pos­si­bil­ity of a cut-above bowl of salad. I like to buy whole let­tuces, cut­ting and wash­ing them in one go, then fill­ing a sand­wich bag or the salad drawer with a few days’ worth of leaves, which stay crisp and cold in the fridge. There is a lot to choose from on the su­per­mar­ket shelves: the bit­ter crunch of chicory, the soft frill of lamb’s let­tuce, spiky rocket as hot as a

pep­per­corns, sweet and crisp lit­tle gems, red-fringed cos ...

A leafy salad is al­ways a part of my day, be it all green, or com­bined with a few care­fully cho­sen in­gre­di­ents and thought­fully dressed. A good leaf salad is all about the bal­ance of the leaves and the perfect dress­ing. I favour cool­ing, calm leaves to make up most of the plate, with a scat­ter­ing of hot, pep­pery, earthy or cit­rus notes. A good salad is all about each mouth­ful be­ing unique; a pop of lemon, a crunchy leaf, the frond of a del­i­cate herb. This is what makes a sim­ple green salad, for me, one of the most pleas­ing things to eat. It’s time to up your salad game.

Pep­pery green salad with apri­cots and curd cheese

This is all about the bal­ance between the flavour­ful leaves and the icy, cleans­ing flavour of fen­nel. Search out more un­usual leaves if you can, but rocket and wa­ter­cress will do fine. Peaches or plums would work well in place of the apri­cots. A sim­ple, but per­fectly bal­anced, salad.

Serves 4

1 large head of fen­nel 4 big hand­fuls of pep­pery salad leaves, (rocket, wa­ter­cress, mizuna, mus­tard leaf), washed 4 apri­cots, stoned and cut into eighths 100g goat’s curd or soft goat’s cheese A hand­ful of hazel­nuts, toasted

For the dress­ing

Juice of 1 lemon Olive oil Salt and black pep­per A lit­tle runny honey

1 First, finely slice the fen­nel then im­merse in a bowl of cold wa­ter to stop it brown­ing.

2 Next, make the dress­ing. Squeeze the lemon juice into a jar and top up with twice the amount of olive oil, a pinch a salt and pep­per, and a tiny squeeze of honey. Shake well. Taste for bal­ance. Add more lemon, oil, honey and salt as needed – but, re­mem­ber, it’ll taste a lit­tle mel­lower on the leaves.

3 Drain and dry the fen­nel, then put in a bowl with the leaves and apri­cot slices. Add a lit­tle dress­ing and toss. Tum­ble into a serving bowl. Crum­ble over the cheese and hazel­nuts.

A green lunch salad

This salad is all green and yet has enough back­bone to be a lunch or light din­ner. It suits rocket leaves best, but wa­ter­cress or mus­tard leaf would work well too. The white miso dress­ing works on most sal­ads and is a great ad­di­tion to roasted roots too.

Serves 2-4

300g frozen or fresh pod­ded peas 200g run­ner or green beans, trimmed and chopped into 3cm lengths 3 cel­ery stalks, very thinly sliced 3 large hand­fuls of rocket 50g pump­kin seeds, toasted 15 big green olives, chopped 2 ripe av­o­ca­dos, sliced

For the dress­ing

1 gar­lic clove, peeled 2 tbsp white miso 2 tbsp mirin 2 tbsp brown rice vine­gar 4 tbsp plain yo­ghurt

1 First, blanch your peas and green beans in salted boil­ing wa­ter for 3-4 min­utes un­til just cooked, but still re­tain­ing a lit­tle bite. Once cooked, run briefly un­der cold wa­ter to cool, then put to one side.

2 In a large bowl, com­bine the cel­ery, rocket, pump­kin seeds, olives and, once cool, the peas and green beans.

3 Make the dress­ing by smash­ing the gar­lic into a paste in a pes­tle and mor­tar. Stir in the miso, then add the mirin and vine­gar. Mix well, then stir in the yo­ghurt. Taste and ad­just the dress­ing, if needed.

4 Toss the salad in half the dress­ing and add more, bit by bit, as needed. Slice the av­o­cado into thin slices and add at the last minute.

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