At last, my late-planted lettuces have reached their peak, along with the peas and runner beans. One of the things I most look forward to when summer comes is being able just to walk into the garden and pick whatever I fancy, whenever I fancy it, then putting together simple, crisp, delicious salads. At the moment, I’m adding all sorts of other ingredients to the leaves and vegetables, to make them complete meals in a bowl - like these prawns with peas, avocado, fennel and a homemade mayonnaise (above). My daughter Maya also loves grilled haloumi cheese, which I add to lettuce along with some smoked trout, lots of finely chopped dill and cooled, steamed new potatoes to make a scrumptious herby salad. It needs nothing more than a classic vinaigrette to finish it off.
When you’re poorly your gut can feel more sensitive than usual and you may find that too many raw vegetables aggravate it. Certain treatments, such as chemotherapy, can also impact on the stomach and digestion. But you don’t want to miss out on all the wonderful nutritional value that you get from fresh produce.
I suggest cooking vegetables which you can cool down before adding to a salad. I love a salad bowl made with asparagus, peas and roasted cherry tomatoes. Or try a French-style salad, such as a traditional salad Niçoise made with green beans and new potatoes. Cooking the beans seems to make them easier to digest, and the new potatoes add extra calories which can be useful when your appetite is a little off. I like to make a dressing of half mayonnaise and half yoghurt whizzed up with lots of dill and tarragon, to make it feel fresher to the palette.
This month, take advantage of what’s in season and move the salad from the side of your plate to become the centrepiece of your meals. Start with a base of leaves – there are lots of varieties of lettuce in the shops, or try baby spinach, rocket and watercress. Add raw or cooked vegetables and herbs for lots of goodness and flavour. Top with some tasty protein, such as feta or mozzarella cheese, flakes of fish, or some chickpeas or cannellinni beans. And finish with a drizzle of dressing.
I hope you enjoy building your salad bowls. So often, just seeing all that vibrant colour and freshness can lift the spirits and inspire a jaded appetite. Let me know how you get on.