A couple of nights ago friends popped around for a light supper. The weather was uncomfortably hot so I decided to keep the meal really light.

Mark grilled a few chicken kebabs on the braai and I opted to make just one side dish, a salad. It was so delicious that I simply have to share it.

I often receive comments that my salads are so unusual so I thought I will share what thought processes go behind these salad creations.

Basically there are NO rules in my book, simply a few recommendations, but that is so personal …… take these and adapt your own style.

Use seasonal ingredients

Avo’s are nearing the end of the season, so at the moment they are in nearly every salad!

Earlier in the week, when tidying the pantry, I found a tin of artichokes and a jar of chickpeas that only had a couple of months shelf-life so I brought then to the front of the shelf to remind me to use them.

Keep it simple

My fridge was packed with fruit and vegetables, but I decided to keep the combination interesting without ‘cluttering the palate’.

My pet hate is when a salad resembles a ‘fridge purge’ and contains a bit of everything. Rather prepare 2 or three well thought out salads where the ingredients complement each other, than throwing everything together! Keep it simple!

Dress it

For this salad the ingredients were interesting so the dressing remained simple…. just a dash of good quality extra virgin olive oil. Avoid commercially produced dressings and rather make your own, keeping them simple and try to compliment rather than overpower the ingredients

Experiment with herbs and edible flowers

Herb flowers are not only beautiful, but add delicate flavours.  Try basil, coriander, celery and fennel flowers. Don’t overlook vibrant nasturtiums, pansies and the beautiful blue of borage and violets. Just ensure that no insecticide has been used and that they are washed.

I need to put my food safety hat on here…..

I cannot stress enough, the importance of washing all your raw salad ingredients well. People are more likely to get tummy bugs from these ingredients than from slightly under cooked chicken! There is no cooking step to kill the bugs and try to imagine where the fruits and veggies were grown and whether the person harvesting them had access to hygienic hand washing facilities!

Balance delicate flavours

Avoid overpowering onion or garlic flavours, unless you particularly want these flavours to shine. The French often simply rub the salad bowl with garlic to impart a delicate flavour.

Pickle it

I dislike raw onion flavours overpowering a salad so I usually lightly pickle the onion in advance. Pickling is very on trend now, but I have used this method for many years. It add another flavour dimension to a salad.

Simply slice the onion of your choice. In a small bowl or jar mix the pickling ingredients:

1 part wine vinegar (white or red)

1 part water

10ml sugar to 200ml liquid

Stir ingredients to dissolve the sugar, add the sliced onion, allowing the liquid to cover the onion. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours. I keep a small jar or bowl of onion pickle in my fridge for up to 7 days in summer.

Salads don’t always need lettuce

I could easily have eliminated the lettuce in this salad, but I wanted the crunch and bright green of the Cos lettuce this time.

Add crunch

If you don’t have crunchy vegetables and fruit think about adding texture in the form of nuts, seeds, croutons (experiment with different breads and oils), crisp bacon, slices of chorizo or even pork crackling or crisp chicken skin.

Balance it nutritionally

For a main meal salad add protein in the form of egg (softy poached or boiled), cheese, chicken or meat.

Pulses such as chick peas, beans, lentils and nuts add protein.

Use platters rather than deep dishes

I like using flat dishes or platters to arrange the salad. It looks much more appetising and the salad ingredients are not bruised. This brings me to the point avoid ….

To toss or not to toss

Sometimes you need to GENTLY mix the ingredients to distribute the dressing or blend ingredients. If you must, then GENTLY mix them. It breaks my heart when I see someone bruising those fresh crisp leaves!

For my Artichoke, Avo & Chick Pea Salad for 6 servings you need

1 small Cos or Baby Gem lettuce

1 small can or 200ml drained chick peas

Approximately 30ml olive oil

1 medium clove of garlic, finely crushed

1 small can artichoke hearts, halves or quartered or bottoms, sliced

¼ English cucumber sliced into ribbons using a mandolin or vegetable peeler

1 large Avo, sliced

A squeeze of lemon juice

Red onion slices, lightly pickled

To prepare

Place the chick peas in a small bowl, add the garlic and olive oil and mix well.

Arrange the lettuce on a platter.

Sprinkle over the artichokes and the chick peas, with the oil. (you can prepare this in advance)

Then arrange the artichokes, avo slices and cucumber strips.

Finally add a few slices of red onion and finish with a squeeze of lemon juice.

It’s best not to assemble the salad more than an hour before serving.