I was working in a little seaside cafe the other day when lunchtime rolled around and I realised I had forgotten to bring anything with me, not to mention it was chucking it down with rain outside (oh the joys of Britain in July) and the thought of a sandwich on the beach suddenly sounded far less appealing than usual.
I searched for a menu and my eyes suddenly fell on the glass counter: I was sold at first sight. A trio of truly delicious looking salads met my gaze. Brilliantly colourful and enticing, it’s a sight I’ve started to get pleasantly used to seeing. Many cafes these days offer a “trio of salads” that are vegetable-based and often actually don’t come with a ready-made sugary dressing. What really excites me is that my daughter notices them now. She’s intrigued by the bright colours, and there is usually at least one salad featuring tomatoes or beetroot, which she adores. I love that the bright salads stand out enough amongst the beige of cakes and pastries to capture even young children’s gazes. They certainly capture mine!
I have discovered some really inspiring salad ideas through cafes and market stalls that have this display. Salad is one of those things we often picture as boring and mostly featuring lettuce and perhaps a little tomato. But these innovative chefs are coming up with exciting ways to pair and dress up vegetables, beans, herbs and grains that you actually want to eat.
One of my favourite discoveries happened in this tiny cafe, making the most of the now seasonal aubergine. An often overlooked vegetable thought of as “boring” or “bland”, I have personally come to love it, and to truly appreciate its meaty texture and deep smoky flavour. This salad is very simple and incredibly cheap, but it is delicious and filling and perfect as a side dish or even as a light lunch all on its own. Its inoffensive flavours blend well with other tastes, so you can chuck it alongside whatever you are having for lunch or dinner, and adapt it to suit your tastes, or what you have in your fridge.
It is light and summery, but somehow just as perfect on a dreary British summer’s day as in the brilliant sunshine at a friend’s BBQ.
A delicious light summer salad that's cheap to make and full of goodness. Just as great as a side for a sunny day BBQ as it is for a dreary day's lunch.
- 2 aubergines, finely sliced
- 6-8 tbsp coconut oil
- 1 tsp paprika or smoked paprika
- 100 g full-fat yogurt
- 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- salt & pepper, to taste
- large handful fresh basil, torn, to serve
- 2 tbsp pomegranate seeds, optional, to serve
- 2 tbsp toasted flaked almonds, optional, to serve
Heat the coconut oil in a large saucepan over medium heat and fry the aubergine slices until soft and slightly charred (you may need to do this in batches), adding more oil if needed (should take about 10 mins). Mix in the paprika and set aside on a plate lined with kitchen roll.
To make the dressing, mix the yogurt with the lemon juice and garlic, and season to taste with salt & pepper.
Lay the drained aubergine slices on a serving dish and pour over the yogurt dressing, then top with fresh torn basil leaves, pomegranate seeds, toasted flaked almonds and a little extra pinch of paprika.