How to Make Potato Salad

Just like the pasta salad from two weeks ago (link), potato salad has been a firm favourite of mine since I was little. I love the creamy sauce, with just a little tang to it.

You will need:

  • a sharp knife
  • a chopping board
  • a saucepan
  • a mixing bowl
  • a spoon or two

and the ingredients:

  • potatoes
  • mayonnaise
  • salad cream (or vinegar)
  • spring onions

Start by chopping your potatoes into chunks (full instructions here). You can use any potatoes, but my favourites for potato salad are small, firm ones like new potatoes.

Boil your potato chunks for 20-25 minutes, or until just cooked. They should be soft enough to poke a fork into, but still firm enough to hold together when you mix them with the sauce.

Photograph of a saucepan containing cooked potato chunks

While your potatoes cook, slice your spring onion. (If you’re not sure how, check out the tutorial from last week here.)

Once your potatoes are cooked, drain the water off and allow them to cool. They don’t have to be completely cold, but if they’re too hot they’ll ruin your sauce. (If you’re in a hurry, try putting the potatoes in the mixing bowl on top of a freezer block or ice pack.)

Mix together your potatoes, spring onion, and equal parts salad cream and mayonnaise. (for a creamier sauce, use more mayonnaise; for a tangier sauce, more salad cream! And if you haven’t any salad cream, try mixing a little vinegar into your mayonnaise instead.)

Photograph of a mixing bowl containing cooked potato chunks, sliced spring onion, and a spoonful each of mayonnaise and salad cream

And that’s it! Potato salad is a great summer dish, for barbecues and picnics, or even to go with your favourite sandwich!

Photograph of a white dish containing potato salad

If you make potato salad with this recipe, I’d love to see a picture of your finished dish!

How to Chop a Spring Onion

If you haven’t already, please make sure you’re familiar with basic knife safety before starting this tutorial. (link)

Spring onions (also called green onions) have a much milder flavour than mature onions. They’re less likely to make your eyes water, and they’re perfect for salads and sandwiches.

To prepare spring onions, start by chopping ½cm or so off the root end. Also, remove the dried out ends of the leaves.

Hand drawing of a spring onion with cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

If you have a whole leaf that’s dried out (like the top one in the picture above),  simply peel it off the onion.

Hand drawing of a trimmed spring onion

Now depending on what you want to use your spring onion for, you may want to cut strips or slices.

 

Strips of spring onion are my first choice for sandwiches, and they’re good for stir-fries too.

Start by chopping your spring onion into sections, the same length you want your strips to be.

Hand drawing of a trimmed spring onion with cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

Then simply halve each section twice lengthwise. Because of the layers inside the onion, you’ll get lovely thin strips.

Hand drawing of two chunks of spring onion with cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

 

Slices of spring onion are great for mixing in with salads, and I like them in soups too. Simply cut off slices about ½ cm thick. I recommend working from both ends into the middle, to help the onion stay together while you cut it.

Hand drawing of a trimmed spring onion with cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

 

There are so many cold dishes that benefit from a little spring onion, including mixed salads that I wrote about here. They’re also great in potato salad and coleslaw! For hot dishes like stir fry (recipe here), I’d recommend no more than 5 minutes on the heat.

One last thing about spring onions – they don’t tend to keep as well as mature onions, so make sure to use them up!

How to Make Pasta Salad

Pasta salad has long been a favourite summer side dish of mine. It’s full of rich tomato flavour, but it’s light enough to eat even on the hottest days!

You will need:

  • a sharp knife
  • a chopping board
  • 2 saucepans

and the ingredients (for four portions):

  • A little oil
  • 1 onion
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • mixed herbs
  • basil
  • pasta

Start by placing your larger saucepan on a gentle heat. Add a little oil (less than a teaspoon is fine), and dice your onion. (You can find more detailed instructions here: onion)

Add your onion to the pan, along with a generous sprinkle of mixed herbs and basil. (A little dried garlic also helps add to the flavour.)

Photograph of a saucepan containing diced onion and dried herbs

Gently fry the onion until it becomes translucent, and a slightly golden colour. (A little splash of vinegar can help speed up this stage.)

Photograph of a saucepan containing diced onion and dried herbs. The onions are now slightly golden and translucent

Add your tinned tomatoes. (Remember to wash out the tin with a little water so as not to waste any.)

Photograph of a saucepan containing a mixed of diced onion and tomatoesHeat your sauce to a gentle simmer (a constant, quiet bubble), and let it bubble away while you cook your pasta. (If you’re not sure how to tell when your pasta’s cooked, check out last week’s post here.)

Photograph of a saucepan containing cooked macaroni pasta

Taste your sauce. The great thing about this sauce is that you can cook it really quickly and keep the flavours of the individual ingredients, or cook it long and slow so it all blends together. (Just make sure to put a lid on it, and make sure it doesn’t dry out.) I usually cook it for about 20 minutes, then add a little tomato puree (or ketchup) for richness.

Once you’re satisfied with your sauce, mix together the sauce and pasta. You could also add some chopped olives or pickles, if you want.

Photograph of a saucepan containing macaroni pasta in a sauce of tomatoes and onions

And it’s ready to serve! Perfect for picnics and barbecues!

Photograph of a white bowl containing pasta salad, with a single olive on top

This is quite a simple recipe, so it’s a great one to experiment with! Why not try adding paprika or chilli along with the herbs, or adding some bell peppers in with the chopped tomatoes?

If you make pasta salad with this recipe, I’d love to see a picture of your finished dish!

How to Cook Pasta

Pasta is a popular and versatile source of carbohydrates, and once you know how it’s easy to cook too!

Pasta comes in all sorts of different shapes and colours, both fresh and dried. But all types of pasta are made from the same basic ingredients, so you can apply the same principles to cooking them.

 

Dried pasta is easier to store and transport, so it’s more common and cheaper than fresh pasta.

Start by measuring a portion of pasta. You can use your hands for this – the amount of dried pasta you can grab in a handful is one portion for you. (Remember: if you’re cooking for people who are bigger or smaller than you, their portion sizes will be different!) It often won’t look like enough when you first put it in the saucepan, but as the pasta cooks it absorbs water and expands.

Place your pasta in a saucepan and cover it with water. (Starting with hot water from a kettle will cook your pasta slightly faster, but cold water works fine too.) Your pasta does need to be fully submerged, but using as little water as you can saves time and energy.

Put a lid on your saucepan and heat it on the hob. Keep an eye on it so that it doesn’t boil over. Once it’s boiling (big bubbles in the water), turn the heat down to a nice simmer (small, regular bubbles in the water), and make a note of the time. The pasta packet should give you a cooking time, but generally small pasta like macaroni take as little as 5 minutes, while larger pasta shapes can take up to 20.

As dried pasta cooks, it goes from being slightly translucent to opaque, and becomes soft. To check pasta is cooked all the way through, cut (or bite) a piece in half. If it’s soft and the same colour all the way through, it’s cooked.

 

Fresh pasta is a little trickier, both to store and to cook. Because it hasn’t been dried out, fresh pasta cooks more quickly. However, the changes in colour and texture are harder to spot, so it’s easier to overcook fresh pasta.

(If you really want to push the boat out, you could try making your own pasta from scratch. It’s not as complicated as it sounds, but it’s still a bit beyond the scope of this blog!)

 

Once your pasta is cooked, you can mix it with a sauce*, herby pesto, or just a splash of oil and a sprinkle of salt. Pasta is great in a huge range of dishes, but for warm weather my favourite is a tomatoey pasta salad!

*(You can cook pasta in a sauce, but it will take a little longer than in water.)

How to Make Quinoa Salad

This was one of my first inventions that I was really proud of! It’s a great summer dish, and a really satisfying salad.

You will need:

  • a sharp knife
  • a chopping board
  • a saucepan
  • a large mixing bowl
  • a kettle
  • a measuring jug

and the ingredients (for 4 people):

  • 200-250ml quinoa
  • 1 stock cube
  • garlic
  • coriander / cilantro
  • 2 onions
  • 2 carrots
  • frozen peas, such as petits pois
  • 16 cherry tomatoes
  • cucumber

Start by washing the quinoa and leave it to drain. (I wrote in more detail about quinoa here, so if there’s anything that’s unclear please check it out!)

Place your saucepan on a gentle heat, and dice your onion. (You can find more detailed instructions here: onions). Add a little oil (less than a teaspoon is fine), then your diced onion, garlic, and coriander.

Photograph of a saucepan containing diced onion, coriander and garlic powderBoil a kettle and mix together the stock, according to the instructions. Add the quinoa, then the stock, to the saucepan. (Remember: use three times as much liquid as quinoa.)

Photograph of a saucepan containing onion, stock, quinoa, and seasoning

Dice the carrots (you can find more detailed instructions here), then add them to the saucepan.

Photograph of a saucepan containing onion, carrot, and quinoa

Put a lid on the saucepan, and let it boil gently for 20 minutes.

While the saucepan is boiling, dice your tomato and cucumber. (You can find more detailed instructions here: tomato, cucumber.) Put the frozen peas, and the tomato, in a large mixing bowl, but keep the cucumber separate for now.

Photograph of a large mixing bowl with diced tomatoes and peas in

Once the quinoa has absorbed all the liquid, it should be cooked.

30 Quinoa salad (18)

Add the cooked ingredients to the mixing bowl. This will thaw out the peas, and cool the quinoa mix at the same time. Finally, add the cucumber.

Photograph of a large mixing bowl containing quinoa, peas, diced carrot, tomato, and cucumber

I like this salad best when it’s just made and still slightly warm, but if you’re not going to eat it straight away remember to chill it in the fridge.

I originally designed this recipe as an accompaniment to falafel, but garlic and coriander are such versatile flavours that it goes with nearly anything! You could add some beans, have it with a burger, or even diced ham!

Photograph of a white bowl filled with quinoa salad, topped with diced ham

If you make quinoa salad with this recipe, I’d love to see a picture of your finished dish!

How to Make a (Yummy) Salad

Salads sometimes get a bad rep, and it’s true that’s it’s very easy to make a boring salad. (The one I grew up with was lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes and no dressing.) But as a light summer meal, or as a side dish, salads can be great.

Salads are so simple to make that I think it’s a shame not to learn how to make them interesting. So in this post I want to share with you some of the tricks I’ve learned.

1. Mix it up

There is nothing wrong with lettuce, cucumber, and tomatoes, but have you ever tried grating some apple into your salad? Do you like beetroot, mushrooms, or olives? What about adding in some vegetables that you’d normally cook, like peas or cabbage? The more variety in colour, texture and taste your salad has, the more fun it will be to eat.

2. Season it!

The biggest mistake I (and I suspect other people) always made with salads was not seasoning them. It’s amazing how much difference even a little sprinkle of salt can make. But don’t stop at salt – try adding herbs, chilli, lemon, ginger, garlic, vinegar; even soy sauce or honey! You can use just as wide a range of seasonings on a salad as you can in cooked foods.

3. Add some fat

Salads are full of fibre, slow-release carbohydrates, and vitamins, but they don’t tend to offer much in terms of fat or protein. This can mean that they don’t make you feel full for long. Adding some healthy fats to a salad is a great way to make it more satisfying. You could add an oil such as rapeseed or olive oil, nuts, seeds, cheese, or even avocado! Personally I like poppy or sesame seeds, because they also add a little crunch.

Salads can be a really fun, interesting food, so it’s well worth experimenting with them to find some that you like. I’d love to hear about your favourite creations in the comments!

How to Chop Lettuce

Sorry to keep you waiting everyone! Let’s get back to cooking some refreshing summer dishes!

Lettuce is an ingredient that it took me a while to learn to love. I used to only like lettuce in one specific sandwich, but now I enjoy it in a range of dishes.

Hand drawing of two heads of lettuce

I say ‘lettuce’, but there are actually a whole range of lettuces – my favourites are iceberg and little gem. Different varieties of lettuce can look quite different, but they all share the same basic structure: larger leaves on the outside, getting smaller and smaller until you reach the stem in the middle. This means you can use the same technique to cut them all!

If you’re using a whole lettuce, the easiest way to cut most of them is to just cut slices about 1cm thick.  Start from the top, and work your way down to the stem. Because of all the layers, you’ll get beautifully shredded lettuce. (If you’ve got a big, round lettuce like iceberg, first chop it in half from top to bottom, then place it on its cut side to slice.)

Hand drawing of a little gem lettuce with cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

However, once you’ve cut a lettuce like this, it won’t keep for long. So if you only want a little lettuce, start by peeling off the leaves you want by hand. To make slicing easier, pile them up, and then slice as before.

Hand drawing of a pile of lettuce leaves with cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

For some dishes, you don’t even need to chop your lettuce! I like whole lettuce leaves in sandwiches because they fall out less easily.

And finally, there’s nothing worse than a limp lettuce leaf, so let me share with you a secret technique! If you chop a thin layer off the bottom of the stalk, and place it in a glass or bowl with a little water, it will suck up the water and crisp back up again!