There is no secret to putting together a tasty and elegant seasonal salad that will delight your family any night of the week, and impress your guests on weekends. It is, essentially, nothing more than a thoughtful layering of seasonal ingredients and topping with a dressing to complement.
Start by thinking about the time of year; which vegetables, legumes and leaves are in season? For the perfect seasonal salad, keep salad combos seasonal by using what naturally grows together so peak produce can shine. Salads are the perfect way to show off the bounty of the season.
In spring it's vibrant greens like lettuce, peas, and spring greens, as well as new potatoes and which are joined by colourful vegetables like carrots and peppers in summer, and not to forget British asparagus. In autumn pumpkin, squash and mushrooms are in season, and as the weather gets colder in winter, root vegetables like sweet potatoes, and brassicas like cauliflower and swede, will be in their prime.
Once you’ve chosen the seasonal ingredients, think about how you want the salad to taste: fresh and zingy or warming and robust? In winter, focus on roasting or sautéing vegetables to concentrate their flavour, whereas in summer, serving vegetables steamed or raw showcases freshness.
To create a comforting dish for cooler climes, choose warming spices like cumin and paprika, along with woody herbs like rosemary and thyme to complement the seasonal vegetables. For brighter spring and summer salads, turn to soft herbs like basil, coriander and mint.
With the key seasonal vegetables and flavours in mind, it’s time to build the salad from base to dressing. Chose a grain or legume for sustenance that will complement the seasonal vegetables – winter favourites include black barley and lentils.
For contrasting textures and flavours, pair cooked elements like roasted vegetables, lentils and grains with something raw, like thinly sliced raw vegetables and leaves. Adding chopped nuts and seeds brings extra crunch to every mouthful.
While most of us picture a salad containing mostly raw vegetables and fruits, adding in cooked components can truly elevate a salad. A bite into a creamy baked sweet potato, a hint of smoke from charred corn, or a dose of sweetness from roasted carrots can be just what your dish needs.
When it comes to protein, favourites are soft cheeses like feta or goat’s cheese which pair well with autumnal flavours like pumpkin and mushroom. Roasted chicken and hot smoked salmon also work well in winter salads and add depth of flavour.
When making the dressing, think about whether the salad is bitter, sweet or salty, then use contrasting flavours for the dressing. Choose a base for the dressing like buttermilk, yoghurt, or oil, then add acidity with lemon, vinegar, or pomegranate molasses which bring sweetness too. Consider using tahini in your salads as it’s great for binding the dressing and offers a nutty, rich flavour.
Grains can be dressed as soon as they’re cooked, to ensure they absorb the flavour of the dressing, but never dress leaves ahead of eating as the leaves will lose their crunch. And forget about just putting fresh herbs into the dressing, toss them straight into the salad. Bright and flavorful herbs will blend beautifully with your greens of choice, all while amping up the salad.