Summer Salads

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Virgil Evetts

Summer is the natural season of the salad. Well priced and flavoursome produce abounds, and the chirpy zing of a good salad is often just what the body craves in the punishing heat.

Apart from Thai salads (see last week’s column on Light Summer Meals), I don’t usually regard salads as meals unto themselves, but they can come pretty damn close, especially when the humidity hits 100% as it has in recent days, and eating , let alone cooking seems so penitential.

Depending on your stamina and enthusiasm of an evening, a salad can be as simple as a few well-dressed dandelion leaves (only for fans of the resolutely bitter), or something elaborate and dependably well received like this summer-centric Asian Beef Salad; and of course anything in-between.

My personal salad propensities tend to follow whatever is ripe and ready in my garden. At the moment the annual overabundance of zucchini is infiltrating practically every meal. My favourite way with these generous of cucurbits is sliced into long juliennes and dressed with a little rice vinegar, dark sesame oil and light soy sauce. The crunchy texture and sweet nutty flavour of zucchini is destroyed by cooking, which for reasons I can neither fathom nor endorse is most people’s default treatment of them.

A few years back I went through a real Provencal kick, and devoured all I could both literally and figuratively of the region’s curiously Italianised take on French cuisine. By far the best known dish of the region is Salade Niçoise, an abused and over-supplied dish if ever there was one…

As per the several rather contradictory “traditional” recipes for this salad I have tried at home, it is a very pleasing (if rather inconsistent from recipe to recipe) dish.  The only thing I don’t like about it is the addition of tinned tuna, which is unfortunate really as most would agree this is Salade Niçoise’s most defining component. I just don’t like tinned tuna. Loathe the stuff actually. True, the salad can be made very successfully with seared fresh tuna, but this is never a noble choice ecologically. With a 90% reduction in stocks since the 1950s, we all need to steer clear of large pelagic fish for the foreseeable future, apart perhaps from the most celebratory of occasions. Even more depressingly, we should probably never touch delectable blue finned tuna (a serious contender for most delicious animal in existence) ever again, so grave are the prospects for this species’ survival over the next couple of decades.  To put things in perspective, as things stand right now blue whales have a better chance of survival.

However, there is still ethically solvent hope for the Salade Niçoise devotee – farmed salmon. No, it’s not a bit like tuna, but it still makes for an exquisitely rounded salad, and despite salmons’ growing status as a budget fish, its appearance at any table tends to impress. If you care about that sort of thing.

Squid exist in vast populations around the cost of New Zealand, and represent one of our largest fisheries. Although the majority of the catch is sent overseas, if you look carefully in your supermarket freezer, you may find locally caught squid (read the packaging for country of origin as most squid sold here is imported from Thailand). Apart from being one of the more environmentally sound wild-caught seafoods, squid is a versatile and fabulously tasty addition to summer salads.

Despite its unassuming looks, squid flesh can be a moody bugger in the pan.  Gently bring it up to room temperature and preheat your pan to a point near combustion to achieve tender, smoky bliss. If the pan isn’t hot enough the squid will ooze gallons of milky water and stew away into tough oblivion. In salads, squid likes the company of Asian flavours- think chilli, fish sauce, sesame oil, lime juice and coriander. Finish with peanuts, cashews or coarsely ground toasted rice. Click here for a tried and true recipe from our vaults…

Although often described as a chilled tomato soup, Gazpacho is really far more a chilled and pureed tomato salad. It demands the very best tomatoes and olive oil, expert seasoning and just enough chilling to make it refreshing but still flavoursome (very cold food desensitises the taste buds). As with all sparse recipes there is no room for poor ingredients or shoddy method here. The addition of poached prawns to gazpacho, as per this recipe, or a few slices of crispy sautéed chorizo can round the dish out to proper meal status.

In a similar vein I sometimes make Antonio Carluccio’s superb rock melon soup (effectively a chilled puree of rock melon with a little lemon juice), generously strewn with prosciutto crudo. This is a super-cute riff on the classic summer antipasto of melon wrapped in prosciutto. Hardly a main course, but heartbreakingly elegant all the same.

Ultimately, style and season aside, my creedo for salads is that they should be easily executed, easily eaten and light on the stomach. The true test of a summer salad’s mettle is in how you feel afterwards. In my books, content, comfortable and smugly nourished equals success; stuffed, sweaty and grease-smeared palate is a fail.

Some of the heaving creations I’ve seen passed off as salads in café of late violate these rules on every level, but there’s no accounting for taste, is there?


Try this stunning recipe from Kapiti on for size!

Shaved fresh pear, rocket, radicchio, and Parma ham salad, with crumbled Kapiti Kikorangi and a lemon & walnut dressing


1 pear

Rocket leaves

Radicchio leaves

Cured ham

Walnut halves

Salt and pepper

Olive oil

1 lemon

White wine vinegar

Soft brown sugar


Cut the pear into wedges with the core removed, and then shave with a good speed peeler into a bowl of lemon water to stop it from going brown. Put aside some rocket leaves, a few nice torn radicchio leaves, and a few slices of good sliced cured ham. Roast walnut halves in a pan until nicely toasted with a little sea salt. Once toasted, place in a small bowl and bath in some olive oil to extract a little extra flavour. While still hot, crush some into slightly smaller pieces.

For more information, please click here.

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