“Leon Happy Salads.” By Jane Baxter and John Vincent. Conran Octopus Limited. $19.99.

Who knew salad was so exciting?

I’ve long been a fan of the green stuff, but sadly my repertoire was mostly limited to topping my greens with cut-up vegetables or throwing in some grains or chicken.

With the already well-thumbed “Leon Happy Salads” cookbook on my shelf, those days of blah side salad are over. The recipes are divided up into the ways you might eat a salad, not the ingredients, which worked really well for me. Looking for a classic? There’s the Nicoise, fattoush and Waldorf salads. A salad to go? The “lunchbox” recipes are perfect to take to work. Or maybe it’s the weekend or dinner, and you need a centerpiece-worthy dish – check out the “food for family” and “food for friends” chapters.

The latter recipes are more complex, but worth lingering over – a paella deli salad with prawns and peppers – or a Mexican salad that involves roasting the corn and peppers on a grill before combining everything into the salad itself.

The recipes borrow from many cultures, and cover a range of seasons. A warm red cabbage salad for winters, and a fig, radicchio and pomegranate salad that sings of summertime.

“Happy Salads” is the latest in a series of cookbooks from business partners and couple Jane Baxter and John Vincent, cofounders of healthy fast-food Leon restaurants in England.

I liked the Eurocentric language of the cookbook, with measurements in grams, and recipes listing “courgettes” for zucchini and “aubergine” for eggplant. A distinction is made between runner beans and French beans, and one Italian chicken salad recipe called for five ingredients I had to look up: Puy lentils, rocket (it’s arugula here,) Coppa di Parma, Grana Padano and mostarda (a mustardy candied fruit condiment.) It should have been annoying – and I won’t be finding any mostarda in Maine – but it actually made me feel quite Continental as I hummed my way around the kitchen.

The cookbook itself is attractive, with lush photos on each page, clear and simple instructions and tips on how to swap out or supplement ingredients for a different take on the recipe.

And since it’s salads not soufflés, the recipes have a casual, confident approach to amounts – a handful of mint here, a bunch of spring onions there.

I tried out the Original Superfood Salad, a favorite at Leon among customers – on the menu since they opened in 2004. In addition to getting my greens with the broccoli, cukes, peas and avocado, the final dish had a wonderful mouthfeel – the crunch and texture of the broccoli and cucumbers were balanced by the smooth feel of avocado and couscous – a swap for the recommended quinoa that I prefer.

The French vinaigrette dressing – one of a dozen-plus in the back of the cookbook – was delicious but baffled me: The first ingredient was “1 sweet potato, peeled.” Huh? A quick online search revealed it was an error, so mind the gap (in accuracy) in the early editions of the book, and dive in and get happy.

The Original Superfood Salad Photo courtesy of Conran Octopus Limited

THE ORIGINAL SUPERFOOD SALAD

Prep time: 10 minutes. Cook time: 5 minutes. WF/GF/V

For toasted seeds: Toast 50 percent sunflower seeds, 25 percent sesame seeds, 25 percent golden linseeds – that last is what we call flaxseed on this side of the pond.

Serves 2

2/3 of a head of broccoli, cut into bite-size florets, stalks peeled and sliced

120 g (4¼ oz) frozen peas, defrosted

¼ of a cucumber, cut into slim batons

100g (3½ oz) good-quality feta, crumbled

½ an avocado, cut into pieces

100 g (3½ oz) cooked quinoa, cooled

A small handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped

A small handful of fresh mint, roughly chopped

2 tablespoons Leon toasted seeds (see headnote)

3 tablespoons French vinaigrette

Put 2 cm (1/4 inch) of hot water into a saucepan with a pinch of salt and cover the pan. Once it’s boiling, drop in the broccoli and put the lid back on. Drain after 3 minutes, then run the broccoli under cold water to take all the heat out and keep it good and green. Now build your salad in layers: Broccoli, peas, cucumber, feta, avocado, quinoa and finally the herbs and seeds. Dress the salad just before you eat it.

FOR FRENCH VINAIGRETTE:

Whisk together:

1 shallot, finely chopped

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

1/2 clove of garlic, crushed

2 teaspoons water

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon maple syrup

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.