I used to think of salad as a side salad – lettuce, tomato, cucumber and maybe a few other salad items topped with some dressing. All good, healthy stuff of course – but hardly a meal for anyone, right, let alone someone who aspires to run at least a hundred kilometres each month?
A real revelation for me was visiting the Passion Café in Ibiza, which has just about the best possible range of salads you’ll find anywhere, all of them made into meals in their own right with the smart addition of all sorts of substantial and tasty toppings.
There’s all sorts of things you can add to make a salad into a meal, and the essentials to keep in your fridge or larder are feta, halloumi (has to be fried for the most sensational topping), falafels, sun dried tomatoes, olives, sunflower and pumpkin seeds (have to be pan fried to bring them to life), walnuts and pecans (roast these with some seasoning to wake up the flavour), black beans, chickpeas, hummus, those little peppers stuffed with feta you get in the deli, and artichoke hearts. Fresh herbs such as mint, coriander, parsley and basil can bring a whole fragrant top note to any salad. Par boiled vegetables such as green beans, peas and broccoli (put in cold water, bring briefly to the boil, then rinse in ice cold water to make them “not-raw” but still fresh and uncooked). Mix and match that lot with a base salad, and for me the simplest dressing is fresh lemon juice and a drizzle of olive oil.
My new love of salad means I’ve largely fallen out of love with the stir fry, which seems like a good way to spoil perfectly fresh vegetables, but I miss those delicious oriental flavours. This Oriental Chicken Salad recipe is the best of both worlds.
Ingredients – serves 2
Two chicken breasts – on the bone and with skin
Two star anise
Half a large red onion – thinly sliced
Small clove of crushed garlic
Small nub of grated ginger
Chopped fresh chilli – to taste
Juice of two limes
Small bag of fresh coriander and half a bag of mint.
Bag of mixed salad leaves
About 3 inches of cucumber – chopped lengthways, seeds removed with teaspoon, then sliced
Two spiralized courgettes
Two spiralized carrots
Avocado – chopped
Handful of skinned peanuts
Couple of teaspoons of sesame seeds
Start out by roughly slicing into the chicken breasts and putting into a pan of cold water, with the star anise, stock cube (crush with your fingers) and some soy sauce. Bring this to a gentle simmer and pop a lid on top, and leave to cook for around 20-25 minutes (depending on their size, if they’re small they may well cook in 15) – when cooked you can turn the heat off and leave them.
Whilst they’re cooking, pop the onions into a bowl with the lime juice, pinch of salt, garlic, ginger and chilli. Leaving onions with an acidic juice plus salt is a great way of softening them as they “cook” (pickle) a little which stops them being so harsh in the salad.
Prep and combine the rest of the salad ingredients and mix up in a bowl. Add what you like – some beansprouts or radishes wouldn’t go amiss.
Put most of the fresh herbs into the salad, removing the stems and tear roughly, and save some for garnish.
Smash the peanuts lightly in a pestle and mortar (to open them up) and pan fry until turning golden on the edges, put into a dish. Do the same with the sesame seeds.
By this point the chicken should be nicely cooked – drain and put on a plate, and carefully remove the skin and bones and chop/tear up the meat roughly.
Add a teaspoon of sesame oil, a big teaspoon of tahini, a splash of fish sauce and a dessert spoon or two of olive oil to the onion mix, stir to mix, and then add this to the salad bowl and toss.
Serve with the torn chicken, peanuts and sesame seeds on top with a garnish of fresh herbs.
And there you have it – a big, ballsy, substantial salad packed with protein, healthy fats, zingy flavours and lots of great plant nutrition.