Pickled walnuts, roasted lemons, griddled squash: who said salad has to be a side dish?
Smoked mackerel and pickled walnut salad
This substantial salad makes great use of pickled walnuts, an undervalued British ingredient that I find very handy for all manner of dressings and salsas. Serves four as a starter or light lunch.
150g smoked mackerel, skinned and broken into large chunks
60g pickled walnuts, cut into long, thin strips
80g croutons (homemade or bought)
4 eggs, semi-hard boiled and each cut into 6 wedges
For the dressing
1 shallot, peeled and finely diced
About 2 tbsp pickled walnut juices
1 tbsp cider vinegar
Salt and black pepper
About 3½ tbsp olive oil
To make the dressing, mix the shallot, walnut pickling juices, vinegar and a quarter-teaspoon of salt in a small bowl. Slowly whisk in the oil until well combined. Add a grind of pepper and set aside.
In a large bowl, put the chunks of mackerel, watercress, walnuts and croutons. Mix well and divide between four plates, gradually dotting each one with egg wedges as you build the salad. Drizzle the dressing on top. If you sense that the croutons have soaked up too much dressing, add a little extra vinegar and oil. Serve at once.
Tomato and roasted lemon salad
Seek out the sweetest tomatoes you can get for this dish, to balance the bitterness of the lemon: baby or cherry yellow and red tomatoes are your best bet. Serves four.
2 medium lemons, cut in half lengthways and cut into 2mm slices, pips removed
3 tbsp olive oil
Flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp caster sugar
8 sage leaves, finely shredded
400g baby or cherry tomatoes (yellow or red ones, or a mixture of both), cut in half
⅓ tsp ground allspice
10g picked parsley leaves
15g picked mint leaves
The seeds from one pomegranate (around 120g in total)
1½ tbsp pomegranate molasses
½ small red onion, peeled and finely sliced
Heat the oven to 150C/300F/gas mark 2. Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil, add the lemon slices, blanch for 90 seconds, then drain. Repeat twice more, then drain a final time and dry. Put the lemon in a bowl and pour over a tablespoon of olive oil, a teaspoon of salt, the sugar and sage. Gently mix, then spread out on a parchment-lined baking tray. Roast for 20 minutes, until the lemons have dried out a little. Remove and set aside to cool.
Put all the other ingredients in a bowl with the remaining oil, a quarter-teaspoon of salt and some freshly ground pepper. Add the lemon slices, stir gently and serve.
Butternut tataki and udon noodle salad
Thanks to the chargrilling, the butternut squash in this meal of a salad tastes both fresh and smoky at the same time. Serves four.
120ml rice vinegar
1½ tbsp caster sugar
25g ginger, peeled and cut into julienne strips
¾ tsp salt
1 small butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and cut into thin, 0.5cm‑wide x 5cm-long batons
2½ tbsp groundnut oil
160g dry udon noodles
75g radishes, thinly sliced
50g mangetout, cut into julienne strips
3 baby or Lebanese cucumbers, unpeeled, quartered and cut into julienne strips
2 mild red chillies, deseeded and cut into julienne strips
20g baby shiso leaves (or any baby cress, preferably purple)
½ tsp sesame oil
1½ tsp black sesame seeds (or white, if unavailable)
10g picked coriander leaves
Gently heat the vinegar, sugar, ginger and salt in a small saucepan, stirring so the sugar dissolves, then remove from the heat and set aside.
Put a ridged griddle pan on a high heat. While the pan is heating up, toss the butternut batons in the groundnut oil. Turn down the heat under the griddle to medium-high and chargrill the squash in batches for about four minutes each, turning so that all sides get grilled. Transfer to a large bowl, pour over half the dressing while the batons are still hot and set aside to cool, gently stirring from time to time.
Bring a large pan of water to a boil. Add the noodles and cook for six to seven minutes. Drain, refresh under cold water and set aside to dry.
Add the dry noodles to the butternut squash bowl, followed by all the remaining ingredients. Stir gently, transfer to a serving plate, spoon on the remaining dressing and serve.
Fiona Beckett's drink recommendations
Smoked mackerel and pickled walnut salad The pickled walnuts should sound a warning bell for wine-lovers. I'd go for a crisp, refreshing kölsch, or a pilsner such as Meantime's Pilsner (£19.49 for 12 330ml bottles, meantimebrewing.com; or between £1.89 and £2 a bottle from independents; 4.4% abv).
Tomato and roasted lemon salad The bright, sweet-sour flavours of this dish need a wine with a fair amount of acidity. I'd suggest a zesty white, such as a Chilean sauvignon blanc, to pick up on the roast lemon. Vina Ulmo Sauvignon Blanc 2012(£6.49 in bigger branches of Marks & Spencer; 12% abv) would do nicely.
Butternut tataki and udon noodle salad Try a vivid, limey Australian riesling such as the 2011 Tim Adams Clare Valley Riesling (£10.79, Tesco; or by the case from tesco.com).
Yotam Ottolenghi's smoked mackerel salad recipe. Photograph: Deirdre Rooney for the Guardian