Five salads from around the world, perfect for summer

From Burmese shredded chicken and Syrian-style halloumi to the smoky spices of India, these five salads by celebrated cookbook authors offer a taste of something different this summer.

Monday, July 13, 2020,
By Christie Dietz
Whether simple or complex, comforting or invigorating, the world’s tastiest salads are winning combinations of flavours, ...

Whether simple or complex, comforting or invigorating, the world’s tastiest salads are winning combinations of flavours, textures and colours, all pulled together by a well-balanced dressing that begs to be mopped up with good, fresh bread. 

Photograph by Getty Images

A heap of leaves sprinkled with crumbled cheese and toasted seeds; a dish of cold beef and noodles soaking up a sour, spicy dressing; or a bowlful of black beans and avocado, crunchy with sweetcorn, red onion and peppers: with its abundance of fresh, local produce, a signature salad can really create a sense of place. 

Whether simple or complex, comforting or invigorating, the world’s tastiest salads are winning combinations of flavours, textures and colours, all pulled together by a well-balanced dressing that begs to be mopped up with good, fresh bread. 

The best local salads can really underline that feeling of being abroad. What’s more, with the right mix of ingredients, they can also conjure up the places that inspired them: close your eyes as you take a mouthful of soft, tangy mozzarella, fresh basil and sweet ripe tomato, and you could well be back on a sunny terrace on Capri; warm, vinegary potatoes with chopped bacon and cornichons, meanwhile, might transport you back to a wood-panelled German pub. 

The following salads showcase some of the defining characteristics of the cuisines they represent. The aromatic herbs, salty cheese and citrussy dressing of the fresh thyme and halloumi salad echo Syria’s best-loved flavours, while the smoky summer vegetables, tossed with a cumin and coriander dressing, are a thoughtful imagining of a modern Indian salad. The savoury base notes of the fiery Burmese shredded chicken and tomato salad contrast with the fresh, simple Tajik bread salad, and with the rich layers of egg, fish and roasted vegetables in the Russian herring dish. Strongly evocative of their places of origin, these dishes are sure to transport you to far-flung places — just make sure you have bread on the side for mopping up those dressings.

Herring in furs, taken from Salt & Time by Alissa Timoshkina.

Photograph by Salt & Time

Alissa Timoshkina's herring in furs

This sumptuous salad is based on a traditional starter served at Russian New Year’s feasts: ‘seledka pod shuboi’, which translates as ‘herring under a fur coat’. In this version — named after a 19th-century Austrian novel, Venus in Furs — the herring is dressed in a light, elegant-looking coat of winter vegetables. Roasted carrots, potatoes and beetroot are layered with egg, dill and raw onions and served with a creamy dressing of creme fraiche coloured pink with beetroot juice.

Serves: 4    
Takes: 1 hr 

Ingredients

1 medium and 1 small beetroot (raw, with skin on)
unrefined sunflower oil
8-10 baby potatoes
8-10 baby carrots 
2 eggs, hard boiled
250g creme fraiche
1 small garlic clove, minced
4 herring fillets, in oil
small bunch of dill 
1 shallot, thinly sliced

Method

Heat oven to 200C, 180C fan, gas 6. Rub the medium beetroot with a little of the oil and sprinkle with salt, then wrap in tin foil and roast for 30 mins. Once cooked, remove the foil, peel the beetroot and cut it into eight wedges. Dress with a little more oil and salt and set aside. 

Boil the baby potatoes and baby carrots in separate pots of salted water for 10 mins, or until cooked, but with a little bite. Drain both pots, then cut the carrots in half lengthways and chop the new potatoes into halves or quarters, depending on their size. 

While the vegetables are cooking, make the dressing for the salad. Finely grate the small beetroot, then strain the pulp through a fine sieve (or use a juicer). Add around 20ml of this beetroot juice to the creme fraiche to create a pink hue — the exact amount is up to you. Add the garlic, then season with salt and pepper to taste. 

Next, assemble the salad. Place two dollops of the creme fraiche dressing on a serving plate and spread it over evenly. Cut the herring fillets into bite-size chunks and scatter around the plate, then add the cooked beetroot wedges, baby carrots and baby potatoes, taking care not to overcrowd the plate. Peel the boiled eggs and cut into wedges, then arrange them on the plate. Finally, add a light flourish of the dill, sprinkle over the shallot and add another grind of salt and pepper, then finish with a little drizzle of oil. 

Recipe taken from Salt & Time by Alissa Timoshkina (£25, Mitchell Beazley)

Fresh thyme and halloumi salad (salatat za’atar), taken from Syria: Recipes From Home by Itab Azzam and Dina Mousawi. 

Photograph by Syria: Recipes From Home

Itab Azzam's and Dina Mousawi's fresh thyme and halloumi salad (salatat za’atar)

A blend of dried herbs, toasted sesame seeds, sumac and salt, za’atar is a condiment used across the Middle East. The ancient Syrian city of Aleppo is famed for its version, which contains a higher proportion of dried thyme and sumac — the latter adding an earthy, citrussy note. Made with fresh thyme and a squeeze of lemon, this salad possesses the key flavours of za’atar. It’s delicious served with crusty bread for soaking up the sweet, fruity dressing, or as an accompaniment to roast chicken or lamb.

Serves: 2 as a side   
Takes: 5 mins 

Ingredients

bunch of fresh thyme
100g halloumi, grilled or fried, roughly cut into 1cm cubes 
1 tomato, diced
½ small red onion, very thinly sliced
1 tsp Aleppo pepper
1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
squeeze of lemon
olive oil, for drizzling

Method

Roughly chop the thyme. If there are any particularly woody stalks, strip the leaves by running your fingers down the length of the stalk from top to bottom. 

Put the thyme leaves in a bowl. Add all the remaining ingredients and mix well.

Recipe taken from Syria: Recipes From Home by Itab Azzam and Dina Mousawi (£25, Trapeze)

Chargrilled summer vegetables with a dhana jeera dressing, taken from East by Meera Sodha.

Photograph by East

Meera Sodha's chargrilled summer vegetables with a dhana jeera dressing

Historically, fresh salads haven’t played a great part in Indian cuisine, as poor water quality has made the preparation of raw produce problematic. Things are changing now, however, and this assembly of crunchy summer vegetables, cumin and coriander (dhana jeera, India’s most pervasive spice combination) and lip-tingling chilli powder is a satisfyingly sweet and spicy vision of what Indian salads might be like in the future. The chunky vegetables acquire a lovely smoky flavour during their time on the griddle; they can also be barbecued — just keep them cooking until they’re tender.

Serves: 4   
Takes: 45 mins 

Ingredients

rapeseed oil 
¾ tsp salt 
1¼ tsp ground cumin 
1½ tsp ground coriander 
¾ tsp chilli powder 
2 tbsp lemon juice 
2 courgettes, cut lengthways into 0.5cm-thick strips
2 red onions, peeled and cut into eighths 
300g Tenderstem broccoli, trimmed and with the bigger branches broken into individual stems 
2 corn cobs, dehusked

Method

First, make the dressing. Put 4 tbsp of the rapeseed oil into a small bowl and mix with the salt, cumin, coriander, chilli powder and lemon juice, then set aside.

Set a griddle pan over a high heat. Brush the vegetables all over with rapeseed oil, then dunk the broccoli in more oil so the florets are properly coated. Once the pan is very hot, lay the courgettes in a single layer and cook for 2 mins on each side until pleasingly striped, then transfer to a serving platter. 

Cook the onions in the griddle pan for 5 mins until soft and blackened, then arrange on top of the courgettes.  

Repeat with the broccoli, cooking in the griddle pan for between 1 min 30 seconds and 3 mins (use tongs to press down the stalks, adding a splash of water to create some steam). Once tender, arrange on top of the onions. 

Using tongs, hold the corn cobs over a medium flame on the hob for about 5 mins, rotating every 30 seconds once the kernels start to blister and char; alternatively, set the cobs under the grill to char. Once the corn cobs are cool enough to handle, stand them in a bowl and cut down the length of the cob, close to the core, to shuck the kernels. Scatter the kernels over the onions. 

Whisk the dressing with a fork, then pour over the salad and gently toss to coat everything evenly. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Taken from East by Meera Sodha (£20, Fig Tree)

Tajik bread salad, taken from Samarkand by Caroline Eden and Eleanor Ford.

Photograph by Samarkand

Eleanor Ford's Tajik bread salad

Traditionally served as a shared platter, this bread salad from Tajikistan is reminiscent of a classic Greek salad, or a fattoush from the Levant. Requiring minimal preparation — little more than the chopping of herbs and vegetables and a brief heating of pitta — this version contains feta as a substitute for the traditional Tajik cheese made with yoghurt simmered with salt. The baked pitta triangles add a pleasing crunch. The salad is usually served with non, a hot and flaky flatbread, which is great for sweeping up the moreish mix of fresh cucumber and tomato, tangy herbs and salty cheese. 

Serves: 2-4   
Takes: 15 mins

Ingredients

2 pitta breads, split and opened like a book
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 large ripe tomatoes, chopped
½ cucumber, halved lengthwise, seeded
using a spoon, and sliced
3 spring onions, thinly sliced
small bunch of coriander leaves, chopped
small bunch of dill, chopped
85g feta

For the dressing

2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp rice vinegar or cider vinegar
1 tsp sugar
¾ tsp ground coriander
85ml extra virgin olive oil

Method

To make the dressing, mix the lemon juice, vinegar, sugar and coriander in a bowl. Gradually whisk in the olive oil until well blended, then season with salt.

Heat oven to 190C, fan 170, gas 5. Cut the
pitta bread into thin triangles, then brush all over with the olive oil. Toast in the oven for around 10 mins until golden (they’ll crisp up as they cool).

Put the tomatoes, cucumber and spring onions into a large serving dish and toss with the dressing and herbs. Crumble over the feta, then add the toasted pitta shards. Toss once and serve straight away.

Recipe taken from Samarkand by Caroline Eden and Eleanor Ford (£25, Kyle Books)

Shredded chicken & tomato salad (kyet thar thoke), taken from Mandalay by MiMi Aye.

Photograph by Mandalay

MiMi Aye's shredded chicken & tomato salad (kyet thar thoke)

Perfect as a bright, punchy starter or as part of a main with white rice and soup, this Burmese salad is striking both visually and in terms of its beautifully balanced flavours. Tomatoes — ideally unripe, for that firm texture and fresh, green flavour — are mixed with shredded chicken, green chillies and crisp, raw onions. The dressing is mustard-yellow due to the turmeric oil, pungent from the fish sauce, and nutty thanks to the toasted gram flour, a crucial component of classic Burmese salad dressings. The chicken can be swapped for fried chickpeas or broad beans.

Serves: 4 as a starter or side  
Takes: 25 mins 

For the salad

2 onions or 4 banana shallots, very thinly sliced (preferably using a mandoline)
4 skinless chicken thigh fillets 
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
2 tomatoes, sliced into strips (keeping the seeds), or 10 cherry tomatoes, quartered 
2 green finger chillies, sliced into rings

For the dressing

2 tbsp ground turmeric
4 tbsp groundnut or other neutral-tasting oil
2 tbsp toasted gram flour (alternatively, use 1 heaped tbsp peanut butter or tahini)
2 tbsp fish sauce 
½ lime, juiced

To serve

handful of shredded spring onions, green parts only, torn (if serving alongside soup and rice as a meal)
handful of coriander leaves 
white rice (if serving as a meal)

Method

Start by making turmeric oil for the dressing. Put the ground turmeric in a heatproof bowl. Heat the groundnut oil in a pan over a high heat for 2 mins until sizzling, then pour over the turmeric. Allow to settle, then whisk. Set aside.

Soak the onions in a bowl of cold water. Put the chicken in a saucepan with the sugar, salt and 500ml water. Bring to the boil over a high heat, then turn the heat to medium. Simmer, uncovered, for 15 mins, then set aside.

Remove the chicken from the stock (reserving the stock if serving the salad as part of a meal with soup and rice) and slice into small strips. Add to a large bowl with the tomatoes, chillies, turmeric oil, toasted gram flour, fish sauce and lime juice. Drain the soaked onions and add to the same bowl, then thoroughly mix everything together.

If serving as part of a meal, reheat the stock until simmering, then ladle into four bowls — this is the soup. Season with pepper and top with the spring onions and half of the coriander leaves.

Divide the chicken salad between four dishes and garnish with the remaining coriander leaves (or all, if not serving as part of a meal). Serve alongisde the soup and rice, if you like.

Recipe taken from Mandalay by MiMi Aye (£26, Bloomsbury Absolute)  

Published in Issue 9 (summer 2020) of National Geographic Traveller Food

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