Super salads

If your idea of salad is soggy lettuce and a bit of ham, think again. Michele Guinness takes inspiration from the French with two dishes you can really make a meal of!

One the many things you’ll never hear a man say in the works’ canteen or restaurant is, “I’ll just have a little salad, thank you.” They just cannot believe that a few green leaves have the ability to fill their man-sized appetites, and turn to the steak or the chips instead, hastening their coronary at every meal by around five minutes.

But gone are the boring old days when salad meant one lettuce leaf, two slices of cucumber, half a tasteless tomato, a hard-boiled egg and a slice of fatty ham.  A dollop of Heinz salad cream turned it into a special treat.  Yes, I remember those days, I’m  horrified to say - except in the Jewish household of my childhood, the ham was substituted with a piece of cold, fried fish. 

No, I wouldn’t dream of giving you the recipe for that - unless Jackie, our illustrious editor, is deluged with requests.  Since our clothes were always hung up to dry in the kitchen, once a week my brother and I would go to school smelling worse than the Tyne quayside where the fish was bought.  As we grew older, we were convinced it was the reason we never made it in the romance stakes.

My husband and I spent our evenings last May in La Rochelle, sitting out in those quaint French brasseries, eating some of the best food there is to be had in France.  I couldn’t get over the wonderful  list of mouth-watering, main course salads. 

We Brits are still a bit stuck with the old Caesar salad, which can be as laden in calories as Duck a l’Orange.  But here are two that won’t worry your waistline and will fill your man, - especially with my own lower calorie adaptation of the traditional French dressing.  Both can be made in just a couple of minutes.

Salade Paysanne (Hot Bacon and Egg Salad)

Serves two:

4-6 rashers low fat bacon, chopped into pieces
Two slices bread (wholemeal or white), cubed.
1 tsp olive oil
2 eggs
Mixed salad leaves - my favourite is iceberg, Chinese leaves and finely chopped red cabbage.
One packet rocket
Half a red pepper, finely chopped
8 cherry tomatoes, halved.
A sprinkling of grated Parmesan cheese

Arrange the salad leaves, rocket, and red pepper on two plates. Fry the chopped bacon pieces in the olive oil, then throw the cubed bread into the pan and brown quickly on both sides to make croutons. Meanwhile, poach the two eggs until firm.  Tip the warm bacon and croutons onto the salad plates, then arrange a poached egg on top.  Decorate with the cherry tomatoes and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
You can substitute the eggs with cooked chicken pieces to make a more traditional Caesar salad if you prefer.

Smoked Salmon Cream Salad

The combination of fish with avocado is really delicious in this salad, which serves two as a main course or four as a starter. 

One small packet smoked salmon pieces
A sprinkling of lemon juice
150g/5oz  carton low fat cream cheese
black pepper to taste
mixed salad leaves
Several slices of cucumber
One avocado

Reserve a couple of pieces of smoked salmon for decoration, and whizz the rest in a blender until it is in tiny pieces.  Add the lemon juice to help it along, but don’t worry if it gets stuck.  It simply needs to be in shreds. Fold the salmon carefully into the cream cheese with a sprinkling of black pepper.  The reason for care is that low fat cream cheese can become too liquid.
Arrange the mixed leaves down one side of a plate. Scoop the avocado out of its skin with a dessertspoon, and slice. Arrange the slices down half the other side of the plate.  Fill the space with several spoonfuls of the smoked salmon cream.  Decorate with the cucumber.
Serve with fresh wholemeal bread.
You can substitute the smoked salmon with cooked fresh salmon if you prefer.

And, to turn any salad into a treat:

Honey Lemon  Dressing

1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp wholegrain mustard
1 tsp chopped chives (fresh are best, but dry will do)
2 tablespoons Balsamic vinegar
4 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons runny honey
Squeeze garlic paste
salt, pepper
cider vinegar
Groundnut oil

Mix all the ingredients together (except for the cider vinegar and groundnut oil) in a 450g (1lb) jam jar, then fill it to half full with cider vinegar and shake.  Fill to the top with groundnut oil and shake again.