Nigel Slater’s easy summer salad recipes | Salad

ANDlmost everything on the table this month is some sort of salad: steamed grains tossed with ripe fruit and herbs; roast peppers with a salty dressing of olives and anchovy; slices of ripe melon and sweet shellfish; or a recipe to use the last of the year’s asparagus. As the summer proceeds there might be a potato salad too, tossed while still warm and steaming with olive oil, lemon and chopped fennel fronds or dill, smoked mackerel and jagged pieces of peeled cucumber.

There may be a little meat – a plate of thinly sliced ​​cold roast pork with plenty of snow-white fat and chewy crackling, or perhaps some soft folds of air-dried ham. And though there will be just one luxurious lunch of fresh crab, there will also be smoked trout or occasionally prawns marinated in olive oil and lemon, with basil and thin slices of garlic.

Grains such as millet or quinoa, couscous (which is grain in appearance only) or bulgur wheat form the backbone of salads with masses of chopped parsley, dill and mint. I toss them with apricots (sometimes raw, sometimes grilled) or tomatoes of every shape and color. At this time of year, we are spoiled for choice when it comes to salad leaves. I have been putting together dazzling assemblies of hot, spicy, soft and crisp leaves to suit whatever else is on the table.

White crab and melon salad

Some wonderful things going on here: sweet white crab and ripe, apricot-hued melon; salty capers and a prickle of heat from a red chilli. Crab is always a luxury, but one I am willing to pay for as an occasional treat. The crab and melon are best when thoroughly chilled, and the melon really does need to be sweet, ripe and juicy.

Serves 4
cantaloupe or honeydew melon 1kg (weight before peeling)
white crab meat 500g
lime juice 2 tbsp
parsley 10g, finely chopped
black pepper

For the dressing
lime juice 50ml (1 or 2 ripe limes)
olive oil 50ml
coriander leaves a handful
capers 2 tsp
red chilli 1 small, finely chopped

To make the dressing, put the lime juice in a medium-sized bowl that is large enough to take the melon. Whisk in the olive oil, then add the whole coriander leaves and the capers. Finely chop the chilli, removing the seeds as you go, then add to the dressing.

Peel the melon and discard the seeds. Cut the flesh into thin slices, then toss gently with the dressing and set aside. (You can leave it in the dressing, in the fridge, for a hour or more, but not overnight.)

Put the crab meat in a bowl, add the lime juice, chopped parsley and a little black pepper. Then mix very gently with a fork. You don’t want to crush the sweet, white flakes of the crab. Place the melon and its dressing on a serving plate. Pile of crab and parsley salad on top and bring to the table.

‘Last of the asparagus’ salad

'Last of the asparagus' salad
Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin / The Observer

The British asparagus season traditionally finishes on 21 June, the day of the summer solstice. As a thank you to the asparagus gods I shall mark the event with a last asparagus supper of the year. This time, the spears will be poached briefly, then dressed, while still hot, with Mark Diacono’s delightful elderflower dressing, from his book A Year at Otter Farm (Bloomsbury, £ 25). It is something I usually use with pale and delicate summer leaves such as butterhead lettuce. As this is a celebration of sorts, scatter over a few flowers – nasturtium, rocket or chive – should the mood take you.

Serves 4
For the asparagus
asparagus 24 spears
rocket flowers a handful (optional)

For the dressing
elderflower cordial 2 tbsp
white wine vinegar 1 tbsp
olive oil 1 tbsp

Put a deep pan of water – large enough to take the asparagus – on to boil and salt the water lightly. Trim the asparagus spears, discarding any tough ends.

When the salted water boils, lower in the trimmed asparagus spears and let them cook for 7-8 minutes till tender. The exact timing will depend on the age and girth of your spears, so test regularly with the point of a kitchen knife.

Make the dressing: whisk the elderflower cordial and vinegar together with a little salt and pepper. Add the oil and whisk until the mixture forms an emulsion. Taste for seasoning.

Lift the asparagus spears from the water and gently shake dry. Place them on a long serving dish, pour over the dressing and toss tenderly until the asparagus is coated, then sprinkle with rocket flowers.

Grilled peppers, tomatoes and tapenade

Grilled peppers, tomatoes and tapenade
Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin / The Observer

The flavors of deepest summer – ripe peppers and ridged tomatoes, purple-black olives and anchovies. I have roasted the peppers, so you get a puddle of caramel-colored roasting juices with which to soak the hot toast, but you could grill the peppers if you prefer. If you take that route, then use a generous splash of olive oil to dress the toast before you put the peppers in place.

Serves 2
red or mixed peppers 300g
olive oil
tomatoes 4 medium
red wine vinegar a little
sourdough bread 4 slices

For the tapenade dressing
stoned black olives 125g
anchovy fillets 8
parsley 2 tbsp
olive oil 2 tbsp

Set the oven at 180C fan / gas mark 6. Place the peppers in a roasting tin, pour over 3 tablespoons of olive oil and let them roast for 40 minutes till puffed and darkened in patches.

To make the dressing, finely chop the black olives and the anchovies, and mix together. You can do this by hand or in seconds using a food processor. Chop the parsley and stir into the olives together with the olive oil. You can keep this mixture in the fridge for several days should you need to.

Remove the peppers from the oven, cover with a lid and leave for 20 minutes. The steam they produce by being covered will loosen their skins. Peel the skin from the peppers and discard, then slice each pepper in half and scrape out any seeds. Place the peppers flat on a serving dish.

Slice the tomatoes thinly. Trickle them with a little red wine vinegar and olive oil, and season with black pepper.

Toast the bread on both sides, then dress while still warm with a little of the oil from the peppers. Place a piece of roast pepper on each of the slices of toast, then a spoonful of the tapenade dressing, and serve with the sliced ​​tomatoes.

Summer herb frittata salad with green olives and thyme

Summer herb frittata salad with green olives and thyme
Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin / The Observer

I make this dressing as much for its fragrance as for its flavor, with its summery notes of green olive and lemon and its faintest hint of young, sweet garlic. Dress the freshly cooked frittata while it is still warm.

Serves 4
For the frittata
spring onions 5
olive oil 2 tbsp
eggs 4
dill fronds 10g
mint leaves 8g
parsley leaves 15g
butter 30g
sprouted seeds a handful, such as mung beans or lentils
fresh thyme leaves and their flowers 1 tbsp, to finish

For the dressing
olive oil 50ml
stoned green olives 100g
red wine vinegar 1 tbsp
garlic 1 small clove, peeled
lemon zest 1 tsp
parsley leaves 10g

To make the dressing, put the olive oil, stoned olives, vinegar, garlic, lemon zest and parsley leaves in the bowl of a food processor and process for a few seconds.

To make the frittata, thinly slice the spring onions. Heat the olive oil in a shallow non-stick pan with a heatproof (metal) handle – I use one about 20cm in diameter across the base – then add the spring onions and let them cook for 3 or 4 minutes until they are soft.

Break the eggs into a bowl and beat lightly with a fork to mix yolks and whites. Finely chop the dill, mint and parsley leaves, then stir into the beaten eggs, and season with salt and pepper. Preheat the overhead (oven) grill.

Add the butter to the spring onions and let it melt. Keep the heat at a moderate level. Pour in half the egg and herb mixture, add any sprouted seeds, then let the mixture cook for 3 or 4 minutes till the eggs have set. Place the pan under the hot grill for a minute or two to set the surface of the frittata. Slide the frittata on to a chopping board, then repeat with the remaining egg mixture.

Slide the second frittata from its pan on to the chopping board and slice both into ribbons, about 1cm wide. Put them into a bowl, add the dressing and toss gently, then transfer to a serving dish.

The green olive dressing is delightful with a little fresh thyme or thyme flowers added as you toss the ribbons of frittata and dressing together.

Spiced apricot and courgette couscous

Spiced apricot and courgette couscous
Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin / The Observer

Serves 4

vegetable stock 250ml
fine, quick cooking couscous 125g
apricots 12
runny honey 2 tbsp
ground cinnamon 1 tsp
ground coriander ½ tsp
courgettes 4 medium
olive oil 5 tbsp
parsley leaves 10g
mint leaves 5g
flaked almonds 4 tbsp, toasted
lemon juice of ½

Line a grill pan or baking sheet with tin foil. Preheat the overhead (oven) grill.

Heat the vegetable stock in a small saucepan. Put the couscous into a heatproof mixing bowl and pour over the hot vegetable stock. Stir briefly, then cover with a lid or a plate and set aside.

Halve the apricots and remove their stones. Put the honey in a mixing bowl and stir in the ground cinnamon and coriander. Add the apricots and toss the fruit and honey together, till all is nicely coated, then tip out on to the grill pan or baking sheet. Make sure the fruit is in a single layer, then cook under the heated grill for about 8-10 minutes till soft and the honey is starting to caramelise. Remove from the grill pan and set aside.

Trim the courgettes and cut them in quarters lengthwise, then into short pieces about 3cm in length. Pour 3 tablespoons of the olive oil into a mixing bowl, season with salt and pepper, then add the courgettes and toss gently in the seasoned oil. Place them on the grill pan – no matter if there is any honey or apricot juice left behind – and cook them under the grill for 8 or 10 minutes till they are tender and turning patchily gold. Turn them over and cook the other side, then remove from the grill pan and add to the apricots.

Chop the parsley and mint leaves and toss them with the flaked almonds, the remaining olive oil and the lemon juice. Run a fork through the couscous to separate the grains, then add the apricots, courgettes, parsley, mint and almonds. Check the seasoning.

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