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Summer salads that pack a savory punch

Salads are having a moment of late, and using prime seasonal ingredients and flavour-packed dressings is key

This week is all about salads. So often an afterthought, summer salads using prime seasonal ingredients can be an absolute joy to make and eat. They are also having a moment of late, the success story that is Sprout & Co is a testament to that. Jack and Theo Kirwan set it up a few years ago and it has been spreading the gospel of saladology across Dublin and beyond ever since. I didn’t make that word up by the way, it’s the title of their newly released book.

They serve a range of high-end salad bowls, each with a specific theme and great Irish ingredients, from numerous locations. The key to the success of the bowls, for me, is the seasoning of the dressings, which I would describe as small and powerful. This is how we add life into our salads, using a small amount of highly seasoned dressing. Most of these can be made in bulk and kept in the fridge for continual use.

I usually have a few store cupboard essentials in stock to pack a punch; we are talking extra virgin olive oil, Dijon mustard, white wine vinegar and some Asian ingredients such as soy sauce and fish sauce. Most are inexpensive, have a long shelf life and are available in most supermarkets. Along with some sea salt and a black pepper mill, I suggest having them all in your armoury to pack some punch into your cooking.

First up, I have a really tasty salad designed for midweek cooking when you have little time to commit. In an ideal world, the dressing will be made in bulk and kept in a container in the fridge, ready to use. The magic ingredient is kecap manis, a sweetened soy sauce from Indonesia that is common across Vietnam and Cambodia too. If you can’t find it here, plain soy sauce and some honey mixed through will work as well.


The dressing is a perfect balance of sweet, sour and savoury that sums up Vietnamese food to me. The salad is easy to put together, the addition of ripped herbs instead of your standard lettuce giving it the punch it needs. Mixed with the dressing and some seared steak, this is flavour forward cooking with a lightness that suits the warmer weather. The vermicelli noodles are always handy to have and can be soaked in no time using boiling water from the kettle. If steak isn’t your thing, this recipe will also work wonderfully with fried beef mince, chicken, pork chop or some stir fried tofu.

The second recipe is more of a side dish, or even a nice light starter if you’re hosting a summer barbecue. Ratatouille is a classic Provencal dish consisting of grilled Mediterranean vegetables brought together with tomato as a base. And yes, it was also a fantastic film.

There are a few keys to avoiding average when it comes to ratatouille. The first is quality ingredients, the better they are, the more natural sugars the veg will have and the better it will taste. After that, salting the aubergine and grilling the peppers to remove the skins will add another layer to the flavour (you can buy tinned peeled peppers if you’re short on time).

Finally, the addition of creamy mozzarella, toasted pine nuts, along with some fresh basil leaves and decent olive oil are all this classic needs to allow its ingredients to sing. I’ll often serve this with barbecued lamb shoulder and some salsa verde, it’s also great with some grilled fish.

Recipe: Vietnamese beef salad
Recipe: Grilled ratatouille salad with toasted pine nuts, basil and mozzarella