Perfect Summer Salads for Sunny Evenings at Home

Growing up in Ireland, did your mother ever say “it’s nearly too hot to eat” followed by the promise of a nice salad for dinner? If so, you know exactly where I’m going with this.

I reckon FM104 presenter Crossy’s definition of an Irish mammy fine sunny day salad was a familiar sight on dining tables across the country whenever the mercury went above 15 degrees.

While we all know and love this time-honoured tradition (which never, EVER includes baked beans, Ray D’Arcy), if you fancy something a little different to the classic rolled up cold cuts approach, the below salads will make for delicious, easy sunny day dining this summer.

Rare Beef Salad with Green Papaya and Mango

Green Papaya, Mango and Rare Beef recipe

This fiery Rare Beef Recipe with Green Papaya and Mango from the excellent Kathryn Bruton (author of Skinny Salads cookbook) definitely doesn’t feel like a healthy concession. I love the zingy lime spiked dressing with plenty of chilli and fish sauce for that umami hit, plus the sweet shredded papaya and mango makes this feel like summer on a plate.

While Bruton uses lean skirt steak, I make a very similar, less saintly version with medium rare ribeye steak, so cooked to ensure the fat is rendered. I then add it as a beefy flavour punch to the dressing. I finish with toasted coconut flakes and those (terribly bad for you but delicious) crispy onion strings you can buy in any supermarket, for a quick and easy win.

Pistachio Pesto, Burrata and Nectarine 

This is a divine green, white and gold version of a caprese salad, featuring the mother of all ooziness, burrata, in place of mozzarella.

For the pesto, pop a bunch of basil and a bunch of coriander into a nutribullet, followed by a handful of shelled pistachios, 2 tbsp parmesan and the juice of half a lemon. Add enough olive oil to achieve a drizzling consistency and blitz until you have a coarse pesto.

De-stone ripe nectarines (or peaches) and cut into quarters. Place them flesh side down in lightly oiled a grill pan or BBQ, turning after a minute or so to cook on the other side. They should be lightly charred and softened.

To serve, scatter nectarines on a platter along with greens and a generous ball of burrata, cut into quarters or served whole to get that perfect bursting with a knife boomerang. Drizzle over your pesto and scatter some chopped pistachios on top.

Crispy Tofu Poké Bowl Salad

Nothing says summer like a bowl of vibrant, rainbow coloured fruits and veggies. Poké bowls, for me, are best if you can get your hands on beautiful sashimi-grade salmon or tuna, served up au naturel. But more often than not, I’ll make this with crispy tofu as I always have a block to hand.

To crisp it up and convert to the tofu life, toss firm dry tofu, cubed, in nutritional yeast (you could also use seasoned cornflour) and a tablespoon of oil. Roast in the oven for 15-20 minutes at 180C, tossing halfway through for golden, salty perfection.

For your veggie base, go in (neatly in sections if you feel so inclined) with a selection of baby leaf spinach, chopped pineapple or mango, jalapeños, pickled red cabbage, carrots, radishes, spring onion, edamame beans, spiralized cucumber, avocado, coriander and pink pickled ginger. If you have wakame seaweed to hand that adds great flavour, but I rarely have it and this is still great without.

Top with the crispy tofu and your favourite crunches: sesame seeds, nori seaweed crisps, coconut flakes, peanuts, pomegranate seeds and/or more of those bold crispy onion strings. To dress, I like to pour over a tablespoon of ponzu and soy sauce, then drizzle a mix of mayo and Sriracha sauce on top.

Harissa Aubergine, Crispy Chickpea and Pomegranate Salad

This Middle East inspired harissa aubergine salad combines spice, crispiness, creaminess and sweetness to make one hell of a dish. Marinated aubergine wedges are pan charred and finished in the oven until tender along with garlic coated chickpeas which roast up to make *the* best croutons.

All of this is piled on a bed of leaves, lime juice soaked onions and a seriously more-ish tahini spiked greek yoghurt dip and finished with sour pomegranate molasses and seeds, chopped fresh mint and coriander.

If you have meat-eaters to please, toss some chicken breasts in the harissa mix and cook in the same way as the aubergine wedges. I’ve also added pan-seared halloumi to this to bulk it up in the past, and how could that be bad?

Smoked Duck, Fig, Blue Cheese and Hazelnut

I enjoy this salad at any time of the year, with roasted cranberries at Christmas and figs or cherries in the summer. Smoked duck is breast is one of those luxurious ingredients I love to have in the fridge at all times, albeit usually for shovelling into my mouth whenever I walk past it.

Ummera Smoked Silverhill Duck Breast and Skeaghanore Smoked Duck Breast are both perfect for this salad, the latter is often stocked in Supervalu. That said, this salad works well with confit duck leg and a rare, pan seared duck breast too if you can’t get smoked.

Simply thinly slice it, quarter some fresh figs, crumble Cashel Blue cheese and toss with mixed lettuce leaves. A quick dressing of red wine vinegar, olive oil, a drizzle of honey and seasoning works best here. Finish with peeled and toasted hazelnuts or almonds and serve.

Balsamic Strawberry, Grilled Chicken, Goats Cheese and Almond 

You could travel the world and fail to find a strawberry as good as the ones you can pick up from a trailer on the side of the road in Wexford. They’re just as good in a salad as they are with a cloud of whipped cream, and they definitely rival beetroot as the perfect bedfellow for goats cheese.

If you’re grilling up some chicken breasts on the BBQ, complement them perfectly with chopped strawberries marinated for 30 minutes in good balsamic vinegar, crumbled goats cheese, baby spinach and some toasted flaked almonds.

Use the strawberry spiked balsamic to make a quick dressing in a jam jar with honey, wholegrain mustard, a minced garlic clove, rapeseed oil, sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Pop the lid on and shake to emulsify.

WRITTEN BY DARINA COFFEY

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