Sarah's Superfoods: Spring salad

Posted in March, April, May, All Recipes, Spring, on

Country Living magazine April 2015

This article first appeared in Country Living in April 2015. To read the PDF copy of the feature as it appeared in the magazine, please click here, or you can read the article in full below.

It’s the greenness of a salad that’s good for you – that, and the water and the cellulose in the leaves, and the roughness of the uncooked fibres. Eating salad feeds the body with undiluted mineral and physical goodness, almost entirely because the leaves have gone nowhere near a stove. Cooking weakens the fibres and breaks down some of the vitamins and the detoxifying chlorophyll, so no (or minimal) cooking is the best idea to make the most of its nutritional benefits.

A couple of years ago, I ate only raw food for a month, which, even for that short length of time without hot food, was a challenge. But simply eating a good leaf salad every day isn’t a hardship. A lettuce-based salad contains vitamins A, C and K, along with lots of dietary fibre and minerals, particularly iron. It’s the red and dark-green loose-leaf lettuce varieties that are the most nutritious, followed by crunchy Romaine (or cos). As a whole, lettuces have only 14 calories per 100g and famously consist of almost 95% water, but it’s worth knowing that cos has almost twice the amount of protein of an iceberg, twice the calcium, iron and vitamin C, four times the vitamin K and 17 times the vitamin A. It’s an extraordinary comparison, so think again when you reach for that crunchy, but almost tasteless iceberg.

Intense flavour is usually a sign that food is good for you. Strong-tasting rocket, watercress and the mustards and mizunas are all super-nutritious salad additions. These brassica-related leaves contain abundant amounts of glucosinolates (the bioactive phytochemicals that make broccoli so beneficial), which are activated by chewing, releasing the distinctive peppery taste.

A handful of watercress (about 50g) stimulates antioxidant, anti-cancer enzymes. It contains as much vitamin C as your average orange; four times the beta-carotene and 15 times the vitamin A of an apple; more vitamin E than the same weight of broccoli; the same amount of calcium as a glass of semi-skimmed milk; and similar levels of iron to spinach. It’s hard to beat in terms of nutrition.

So what makes a good salad? My basic rule is to include at least one thing from five different categories of ingredients. The first is lettuce to give a gentle flavour, crunch (which is particularly important in a summer salad) and background bulk to your bowl. Next come the salad leaves to provide strong taste and splashes of colour. The third addition is herbs, just a sprinkling, coarsely chopped or torn, to give a lovely hit of flavour. Then introduce one or two different salad vegetables to give substance and, finally, edible flowers for prettiness and colour. If you add other ingredients, such as celery, cherry tomatoes and cucumber, choose organic versions or grow your own because, like lettuce and spinach, they have the highest levels of pesticide residue.

Try to include a salad in at least one of your daily meals, and it doesn’t just have to be lunch or dinner – I love gazpacho, salad as soup, for breakfast – and you’ll be all the better for it.

This article also includes four spring salad recipes:

  • Mieng kam
  • Greek herb pies
  • The perfect salad
  • Watercress and melon gazpacho with seeded oatcakes