Salad doesn’t have to be something on the side or a bit of greenery bringing up the rear. It can be a starter or the main event and it can be childlishly simple to prepare, but it will only be delicious if the ingredients are of impeccable quality and genuinely complementary. Sounds obvious, but it’s surprising how often people - and restaurants - slip up.
Using good oil and vinegar is a start: they won’t guarantee success, but they’ll pay dividends along the way. That doesn’t mean lavishing £20-bottles of single-estate Tuscan olive oil at every second lettuce leaf, but an oil used for salad should be good enough to eat with bread alone. Similarly, vinegar doesn’t have to be mega expensive balsamic, but you should have a good wine vinegar (the cheap ones are dreadful) or a convincing balsamic-type or sherry vinegar.
As for mixing and matching ingredients, beware the kitchen-sink school of salad creation. It comes, I think, from the generation for whom salad in childhood meant limp lettuce, tasteless tomato, watery cucumber, vinegary beetroot and a trail of slimy salad cream. Anything and everything must have seemed better after that. All you need to remember is that salad components should be matched as carefully as those in any other dish – perhaps even more so since there are few, if any, cooking processes to disguise them.
Potato, chorizo, prawn and paprika salad
If there’s such a thing as salad as comfort food, this is it – and it’s a good dish even if you do without the prawns. The quantities here are for a lunch main course, but there’s no reason why you shouldn’t serve smaller quantities as a starter. Served warm (and using old potatoes), it’s also a good candidate for the colder months, but, no, I don’t want to think about winter now either.
1 kg of new potatoes
80g whole blanched almonds, (preferably the Marcona variety)
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp smoked sweet paprika (Pimenton de la Vera dulce)
300g chorizo (preferably the cooking sort), sliced diagonally into 1cm thick pieces
300g large prawns, cooked and peeled
80g green olives, stoned
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Scrape or peel the potatoes and cook in boiling salted water in the usual way. Leave them to cool a bit, then cut as necessary: tiny ones can be left whole; larger ones should be cut into pieces half the normal cooking/serving size.
Briefly and lightly toast the almonds in a dry frying pan over a high heat.
Heat 2 tbsp of the oil in a large frying pan and fry the smoked paprika for a minute over a medium heat. Add the slices of chorizo and fry, turning half-way: cooking chorizo will need 3-4 minutes: cooked chorizo will need only 1-2 minutes.
Stir in the prawns, then the potatoes coating them thoroughly with the paprika-flavoured oil. Take off the heat and stir in the olives, almonds, remaining olive oil and all but a few of the rocket leaves.
Taste, then add salt and pepper: you may not need much, because of the olives and chorizo. Decant into a large serving dish and tear over the remaining rocket just before serving. Serve cool, tepid or warm, but not fridge-cold.