Yesterday I went to a friend’s BBQ. She asked if I would bring some of the salads I made a couple of years ago at a do of mine. It’s quite something to remember a meal from that long ago anyway, but the fact that it was the salads that had captured her memory so well was intriguing. How can a salad be so interesting?

Ottolenghi, Islington

Well, the simple one word answer to all things salads is Ottolenghi. When I said this to everyone at the barbie who asked for the recipe they did not know what I meant and I realised that most people don’t live in my London bubble so why should they know the wonderful Yotam?

Born in Israel, Yotam Ottolenghi came over to the UK in 1968 to study at the Cordon Bleu cookery school and worked through various kitchen before opening his own place some 4 years later, with his Palestinian partner Sami Tamimi. Together they brought a new energy to their eaterie and many have tried to emulate the concept ever since. It really is pretty simple. Simple white decor to ensure the food takes pride of place and giant bowls of tasty salads with a few changing proteins to partner, or simply have a plate of veggies for one price. And did I mention the cakes? Well, you can go back to “past friends, present places and future talent” to read all about them.

The secret to these salads is threefold.

Firstly, the ingredients need to have colour and flavour . With vegetables that means interesting combinations that gain an extra dimension by chargrilling, smoking or chopping in lots of tasty herbs…and invariably quite a lot of chilli. The chargrilled broccoli salad is apparently one of the most popular and that extra singe on the parboiled florets really does make a difference.

The second thing is the dressing which is zesty and vibrant with different oils & vinegars, fresh citrus juice and often sweetness to complement the sours. I used clementine juice in my quinoa salad this weekend inspired by a recipe in the first book.

Finally, and for me the most interesting of all, is the addition of textures through the use of nuts and seeds. These are toasted for extra flavour and really do bring a new dimension to each and every dish. The poppy seeds in the sweet & sour cucumber salad look and taste great. And the toasted nuts in the quinoa salad much the same.

Clearly the challenge for any caterer is to keep costs and prices in line when using these additional ingredients but the truth is that they are worth it. Every single adult around that BBQ table took interest in the Ottolenghi recipes I brought with me. The women all said they would happily eat salad alone if it was as good as this and the boys went back for seconds, even if they wouldn’t abdicate their meat.

Yotam has a blog on his website and writes weekly for the Saturday Guardian weekend magazine but I urge you to buy the first book and try for yourselves. It will change the way you look at salads and give you loads more treats to indulge in.

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