Donal Skehan: Look east for hearty summer salads

Flip the traditional salad on its head with these adaptable Turkish-inspired recipes

Fresh leaves of lettuces such as frisée, radicchio and romaine tossed in a simple vinaigrette of extra virgin olive oil, white wine vinegar, Dijon mustard with a whisper of garlic and seasoning are all I need when it comes to a great salad. But for the days when something a little more “meaty” is required, I rely on the heartiness of roast vegetables, grains such bulgur, pearl barley and quinoa, and dressings that pack slightly more punch in flavour and texture than a modest vinaigrette.

One of the highlights of a recent trip to Istanbul was to experience the seemingly endless procession of plates at an authentic Turkish breakfast joint. Pickled walnuts in sweet syrup, goat’s cheese curd drizzled with honey and, mint, fresh tomatoes and cucumber were all laid out side-by-side to create a palatial breakfast buffet. Compared to our heavy Irish breakfast, the Turks know a thing or two about creating a feast while maintaining lightness and freshness of ingredients.

Each small plate was a joy to sample and with every region of the country providing their own take on kahvalti (Turkish breakfast) you could travel the length and breadth of Turkey, almost guaranteed to discover new elements to this traditional repast. While I fell a little in love with this idea of a breakfast that can run right through brunch and into lunchtime, I haven't exactly got around to recreating it at home. However, one component that has entered my repertoire is a dish from the spread called cilbir – spiced poached eggs with yoghurt. I've adapted it to become more of a lunchtime dish and served it with a grain salad heavy on cucumber, tomato and mint.

The idea of flipping the traditional salad on its head somewhat comes into play particularly with a roast aubergine platter adorned with fresh herbs, tender grains, and a sauce borrowed from the Palomar restaurant in Soho, London. There, chef Tomer Amedi, makes a creamy, tangy sauce of yoghurt and tahini cut with lemon juice. You may have seen me use it in this column before and for that I make no apologies; it’s a simple sauce that transforms grilled meat and vegetables and should be used again and again.


Two hearty and altogether alternative salads that are designed to be adapted and interpreted, as you like.

Turkish egg and grain salad

If you are at all intrigued by this dish I urge you to try it – the poached eggs slathered with a spiced butter sitting in a well of tangy yoghurt is wonderfully unique.
Serves 2:

  • 1 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 4 large free-range eggs
  • 150g Greek yoghurt
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely grated
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 tsp dried chilli flakes (use Aleppo chilli flakes if you can find them)
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

For the salad:

  • 150g pearl barleycooked
  • 100g cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
  • ½ small cucumber, sliced thinly
  • A small bunch of radishes, sliced in half
  • A small handful of fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
  • Juice of ½ a lemon
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Toasted sourdough bread, to serve

Prepare the salad by combining all the ingredients in a bowl and tossing to combine. Season generously and set aside.

To poach the eggs, fill a wide pan with water to a depth of about 5cm and bring to the boil. Add a pinch of sea salt and the vinegar. Lower the heat to a very gentle simmer and drop the eggs into the water right at the surface (you may find it easier to break each egg into a cup and slide it gently into the water). Cook for 3-4 minutes before removing with a slotted spoon and draining on kitchen paper.

Mix together the yoghurt and garlic and set aside.

Place a small frying pan over a medium-high heat and add the butter. Allow it to foam and become nutty and golden brown. Turn off the heat and sprinkle in the chilli flakes and paprika. Stir through the oil and set aside.

Divide the yoghurt between two serving plates, spreading in a circular motion to leave a shallow well across half the plate. Add poached eggs to each well. Spoon the spiced butter mixture over the top and serve with the grain salad and chunky slices of toasted sourdough.

Roast aubergine, herb and nut salad

Roast aubergine slices could be eaten just as they are warm from the oven but, served with a creamy, nutty sauce and topped with a herb and grain salad, they become elevated to dish worthy of a dinner party. Pearl barley can be swapped for bulgur, quinoa or even brown rice.
Serves 4:

  • 2 large aubergine, cut into 2cm-thick slices
  • 8 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp ras el hanout Sea salt and ground black pepper

For the taghourt:

  • 200g Greek yoghurt
  • 5 tbsp tahini Squeeze of lemon juice

For the salad:

  • 150g pearl barley, cooked
  • A good handful of coriander
  • A good handful of parsley
  • A good handful of mint leaves
  • A good handful of rocket leaves 3 tbsp olive oil Juice of ½ a lemon
  • Preheat the oven to 200 degrees

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the olive oil, garlic, ras el hanout and a generous seasoning of sea salt and ground black pepper.

Score the flesh of each aubergine slice lightly with the tip of a sharp knife and then transfer them to the mixing bowl. Toss until each slice is completely coated.

Lay the aubergine slices flat on a large baking tray – you may need a second one depending on the size of the aubergines.

Roast in the oven for 25 minutes or until the flesh is tender but still holding it’s shape. Remove and allow to cool.

Prepare the taghourt by whisking the ingredients together. Loosen with water until it becomes a dropping sauce-like consistency.

In another mixing bowl, whisk together the olive oil and lemon juice and season to taste. Add the pearl barley, herbs and salad leaves and toss to coat. Arrange the cooked aubergine slices on a serving platter and top with the herb salad and a generous drizzle of the tahini yoghurt sauce.