As we finally say goodbye to the ice of winter and pack away the thick scarves and hats - well that's the plan, anyway - it is good to anticipate the coming spring and think healthy. And by enjoying fresh, delicious, substantial salads you can increase your vitality and tackle life with a renewed vigour.
It has been scientifically proven that eating salad can curb appetite. So you may even lose weight - that is provided you don't add large amounts of mayonnaise or oil-heavy dressings. The fresher spring vegetables are coming through now, so take advantage of them and make salad part of your daily regime.
Some consider salads "rabbit food", and it's difficult to change their minds. But by adding other ingredients you can win over even the anti-salad brigade. Think fresh feta cheese or moist, poached chicken from the soup, a piece of freshly grilled salmon, smoked mackerel, or an oven-crisp golden, jacket potato.
Maybe you've never tasted beetroot grated raw. It is a mineral powerhouse - delicious peeled and processed or grated with the same amount of raw carrot. Try to get organic, it does make a difference both to the flavour and the health value. Then add masses of finely chopped parsley and mint, a handful of toasted sunflower and pumpkin seeds per person and dress with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a dash - not a glug - of extra virgin olive oil. Quantities? I make a large amount, dress it and use it for two days, although the vitamin value will slightly deplete.
For this salad I grate approximately four small beetroots and eight small carrots to serve four people as a side salad; just double up for a main meal and serve with a piece of good artisan bread, maybe rye or granary but not white.
If you're nervous about the grated raw beetroot - remember, though, it is a hugely healthy root vegetable - simply grate fresh carrot; approximately two large ones per person. Add freshly chopped parsley or coriander, plus a tin of drained chickpeas, a handful of freshly chopped olives, plus some capers for a delicious taste.
The Italians always eat salads twice a day and one favourite is finely sliced fresh fennel, with one very finely sliced red onion - if it is too strong, try soaking the slices in iced water. Then after a few minutes, drain, add to the fennel (one is enough for four) with the flesh of two oranges and a good handful of walnuts - perfect for heart health.
Dress with lemon and olive oil or the juice from jars of pickled sweet-and-sour cucumbers. They are not very acid and the flavour enhances most dishes. In fact, when I make my own mayonnaise I always thin down the egg mixture with this juice.
Another superb cooked salad is roasted beetroot with whole red onion - approximately one per person. Add a teaspoon of olive oil and shake the veg to oil them. Then roast until the beetroot are tender - approximately one-and-a-half hours in a medium oven (or boil in the usual way).
Then peel - the skins should come off easily - and chop the beetroot and onion into small chunks and leave to cool. When cool, add half a cucumber, cut in the same way, and one chopped pickled cucumber. Coat with low-fat yoghurt or fromage frais.
Season and decorate with masses of finely chopped mint or dill and serve with pickled herrings for superb health benefits.
Moroccan Carrot Salad
Serves four as a side salad with a main meal
● ½ kilo raw organic carrots, cleaned and sliced
● 2 cloves garlic – finely sliced
● 1 tsp paprika
● 1 tsp cinnamon
● 1 tsp ground ginger
● ¼ tsp cayenne pepper (this is optional but delicious if you like spicy food)
● 1 tsp ground cumin
● Salt and pepper to taste
● Juice of 1 lemon
● 1 tsp olive oil
● 15g finely chopped parsley
● Boil the carrots with the garlic until it is almost cooked through.
● Drain, then combine the spices with the oil and lemon juice and pour over the carrots.
● Serve and enjoy.